Lisa Norling: History classes might be taking a back seat in Minnesota


History Buzz

Do Minnesota students know their U.S. history?

Despite a recent report showing a limited grasp of U.S. history by the nation’s students, Minnesota educators generally give fair marks to the students here. Young people often have a pretty good sense of dates, places, names and basic trends, the educators say. But the teachers say that improvement is needed, and worry that the emphasis on math, reading and the sciences may detract from learning about history, which they say is crucial to becoming solid citizens with a sense of national identity.

“I think you’re really trying to address one of the fundamentals of the human experience: Who are we, what have we done, and where are we going?” said Tim Hoogland, director of education outreach programs for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Still, Minnesota teachers aren’t doing the kind of hand-wringing that followed last month’s release of U.S. history test results by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Some educators around the nation said they were alarmed by the results of the 2010 test, which showed only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders, and 12 percent of 12th-graders were proficient or better in the subject. Results were not broken out state-by-state in the NAEP report, so Minnesotans’ standing wasn’t immediately available….

“I find the students who … have graduated from American high schools have a basic understanding of the broad periods and watershed events of American history,” said Lisa Norling, an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota….READ MORE

David McCullough: Textbooks “so politically correct as to be comic”


History Buzz

Source: WSJ, 6-18-11

‘We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate,” David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, “I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don’t know.” Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. “It’s shocking.”

He’s right. This week, the Department of Education released the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that only 12% of high-school seniors have a firm grasp of our nation’s history. And consider: Just 2% of those students understand the significance of Brown v. Board of Education….

The 77-year-old author has been doing his part—he’s written nine books over the last four decades, including his most recent, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” a story of young Americans who studied in a culturally dominant France in the 19th century to perfect their talents. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

“History is a source of strength,” he says. “It sets higher standards for all of us.” But helping to ensure that the next generation measures up, he says, will be a daunting task….READ MORE

History Education: Jobs-focused education leaves history in the dustbin


History Buzz

New test scores on history and civics reveal how little American students know their nation’s past. Yet such knowledge is essential for active citizens.

Source: CS Monitor, 6-14-11

A society can make progress only if its young people know of the progress their country has made so far. In America, that means fourth-graders should be able to identify Abraham Lincoln – only 9 percent can. High school seniors must know about the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education – only 2 percent do.

Such statistics are particularly worrisome because today’s 12th-graders will be able to vote in next year’s elections.

Most of these fledgling citizens and future leaders haven’t fared well on a national “report card” issued every few years about how well students grasp civics and history.

In the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 12 percent of high school seniors are proficient in US history while 24 percent measure up in civics. And of all the subjects tested under NAEP since 1994 – math, reading, science, writing, geography, civics, history – students do the worst in history.

In the 2010 test, some progress was found among eighth-graders, especially blacks and Hispanics, since 2006. And ever since the NAEP began in 1994, fourth-graders have shown a healthy gain in history scores. But that may reflect improvements in reading skills, experts say.

By the 12th grade, students score the worst on history compared with earlier grades, with more than half not reaching even basic knowledge. (The test categories for history include democracy, culture, technology, and the US role in the world.)

Fixing this problem isn’t easy. Education in the United States has become focused on developing marketable skills for scarce jobs and less on the skills of citizenship. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act has forced schools to focus almost solely on math and reading, which often leaves history and civics in the dust. As a result, most fourth-graders spend less than two hours a week on social studies in the classroom.

This curriculum gap may be one reason for the generally declining rate of voting among young people. And one recent survey found most 18-to-29-year-olds could not peg the unemployment rate (9 percent) within five percentage points….READ MORE

New Report: U.S. History Majors Highest Earners in Humanities


History Buzz

A new report, from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, on median salaries for undergraduate majors finds that history majors go on to earn fairly respectable salaries. Looking at the median salary for everyone aged 18 to 64 years old with an undergraduate degree in any one of 171 different fields, the report finds that history majors do the best in the humanities, and better than students in a majority of the other fields.

The report separates majors in U.S. history from the rest, and finds it makes a big difference. Students who majored in U.S. history earned $57,000, as compared to $50,000 for other majors in history. The average salary for U.S. history majors was 18.7 percent higher than the average for all the humanities. The average salary for other history majors was the second highest, and on a level only with art history and criticism. U.S. history is also quite high relative to most of the other fields in the survey (especially in fields outside of the scientific, engineering, and business fields).

The report also highlights a few other interesting pieces of information—a significant portion of the history majors (43 percent) went on to earn graduate degrees in history or another field. And a substantial number of history students went into business—one in five said they were in management positions, for instance, and over 15 percent in sales (see figure below).

history majors occupations

For further analysis of the report see this article from The Chronicle, along with their interactive graphic. Inside Higher Ed also weighs in on the data, noting the surprising finding that “women and minorities clustered in low-paying fields with few opportunities for advancement.”

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