If You're Looking for a History Teacher, Don't Hire a Graduate of Georgia's Public Schools

Monday, 2 February 2004

When I wrote my satire of Georgia's new proposed high school science curriculum, which studiously avoids the word "evolution," I wasn't yet aware of proposed changes to the state's history curriculum which, if anything, are even more bizarre. I thought about writing a satire of the history proposals as well, but I ran into a problem: how would anyone know what was factual and what was invented for the sake of humor? So let me say at this point that the essay you are now reading is not satire. The changes advocated, no matter how ludicrous, have really been proposed by the state's Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Cox, after having been suggested by a special committee of the Georgia Department of Education (sic!). I don't normally dwell on local issues to such a degree, but I know that if it could happen in Georgia, it could happen in other states as well (think about the Kansas Board of Education's abortive attempt to remove evolution from the classroom a couple of years ago).

The main problem with the proposals for the high school courses World History and U.S. History is that they actually cover very little of the subjects in question. The World History curriculum begins with the year 1500--C.E. (A.D.), not B.C.E. (B.C.)!--completely ignoring the first 4,500+ years of recorded history. After a brief introduction on the "Founding Ideas" of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution, the U.S. History curriculum skips to the year 1876--after the Civil War and Reconstruction--skipping the first forty percent of the history of our country, not to mention the centuries prior to the Revolutionary War.

The justification for such bizarre changes to the topics covered in these courses is that elementary and middle school students will be taught about earlier time periods. That's all well and good, but I doubt that a fourth grader's capacity for understanding the ethical, economic, and legal issues related to slavery is the same as a tenth grader's. And I suspect that second graders who study the great civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and China won't retain much more than a few facts about pyramids, ziggurats, the Ganges River, and silkworms. Assuming all goes as planned, the intelligent Georgia high school graduate will have an excellent understanding of the modern world and of post-Civil War America. That means that he or she will have been exposed to approximately 25% of the World History that their college peers will be familiar with (excluding the Stone Age from the calculations) and approximately 25% of the U.S. History as well (excluding pre-Columbian civilizations). Even if all Georgia graduates really know the material they've covered, a grade of 25% is failing by any reasonable standard.

In World History classes, Georgia high school students will not learn about the following rather important events, people, or ideas:

In U.S. History classes, Georgia high school students will not learn about the following:

Putting the responsibility for teaching high school subjects on elementary and middle school teachers is unreasonable, and it will not solve the problems that perennially plague Georgia schools. Teaching 25% of the material that high school students in every other state cover will only hurt the students. Some of the suggestions the proposed guidelines make for the time periods covered are good and could be incorporated into half-year courses such as History of the Modern World (with a focus on Europe) or American History after Reconstruction, but courses that deal only with these time periods should not pretend to be World History or U.S. History courses.

© Copyright 2004, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology