This morning's news: Georgia State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox has thrown out the middle school CRCT test results for social studies (meaning history, with a bit of geography), after 70-80 percent of students failed.
Let me be blunt:
First, the test is likely rubbish, with a focus on arcane facts. Just a guess, because, unless I am mistaken, none of us can see it.
Second, teachers, most of whom had an inadequate education in the overcrowded classrooms of the state's university system, from the overworked and demoralized professors of the USG, were not taught history in a meaningful way that they can communicate to their own students, and so teach history as one wretched thing after another.
Third, the professors of the USG who teach history to the future teachers are pressured to eschew taking time that good teaching demands, and instead to publish scholarship that, most of the time, is far too underfunded to be good enough even to make a dent in the consciousness of the historical profession. Those of us who strive to teach beyond memorization and multiple choice get no real support.
Fourth, when the state came up with its new curriculum a few years ago, the first time they asked for the opinions of academic historians was when it was already a done deal, and without any promise of reward or recognition. They sent an email with the curriculum attached. Most of us looked at page after page of standards, saw problems, considered that we wouldn't be listened to even if we took hours we don't have to produce a reasoned critique, and hit delete.
As one example of the problems I spotted, kids in third grade are supposed to be taught that there is a direct link between Greek democracy and the kind practiced in America today. There isn't. You cannot find work by an historian that shows such a link exists. How are teachers supposed to teach that? And how are teachers supposed to teach social and cultural history by examining a random group of unrepresentative Americans as the curriculum suggests, from Abe Lincoln to Rosa Parks to Ronald Reagan (who, by the way, is extolled as an example that kids should follow. This politicization of history should outrage all of us, regardless of our personal views.)
Now the Superintendent is forming a committee to review the curriculum. Will any historians be on it? Don't hold your breath. What would historians know about history?
As an historian, as a history professor, and as a mother of a son who is being tested to death in a public school in Georgia, I am tired. Tired of encountering students who, having been tested and tested on random facts in high school, arrive in college profoundly ignorant of even those facts you would think would be common knowledge and, worse, incapable of thinking historically after years of cramming trivia. Tired of watching as my son fills out dreary worksheets and spends weeks taking meaningless tests, while his class spends zero time on history in the classroom at an age when he is most eager to learn it. Tired of watching the state continue to pretend that historians don't exist, even as it discovers that it cannot teach history without us.