Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kids Fail History

by Edd Doerr

"US History Is Still Troublesome for US Students, Nationwide Tests Show", shouts a headline in the New York Times on June 15 above a 6-column story on the latest results of National Assessment of Educational Progress exams. As a former high school history teacher I would like to record some observations, in no particular order of importance.

Several years ago a nephew, a graduate of my own university and a millionaire, rang me up to ask what World War II was all about. In reply to my stunned question, he informed me that his history teachers in his private high school and public university had never gone past the year 1900. So I spent an hour or so explaining the 20th century. Which brings us to the problem.

History is the most controversial subject in the curriculum. Teachers and schools too often shun controversy. Textbooks are produced by publishers trying to make a profit, and getting textbooks adopted is crucial to the process. James W. Loewen's 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong explains this rather well. Then, too, pressure groups, usually from the Far Right, like Texas' Mel and Norma Gabler or David Barton, make life miserable for teachers, administrators and publishers.

Some years ago a teacher friend of mine spent a week with his history students on the Bill of Rights in his rural school district. The school principal reamed him out for daring to deal with something so controversial. The teacher then told the principal that he was going to drive to the state capital and have the ACLU "sue his ass". The teacher years later became the state ACLU executive director. In my first year of teaching in the US, during the civil rights era, I got into trouble in my lily white school district for daring to have the subject discussed in class.

Then there is the problem that seldom gets talked about, the predominance of coaches as high school history teachers. Why? you might ask. Because many, perhaps most, states require that athletic coaches teach and be licensed in an academic subject, and the easiest subject in which to get certified is social studies. So zillions of kids are being taught history by guys whose first interest is winning football or basketball games but who know and care all too little about history.


Anonymous said...

So, what is the point of your post? That our children don't know history because it's too controversial? The reason David Barton makes life hell for districts is that they teach about every multi-cultural monthly celebrated event, but children fail to recognize George Washington. You seem to infer that you can still be a millionaire and not know history. Article after article comes out almost weekly about how the govt. schools are failing in everything but self-esteme. Yet liberals still find a ways to defend it as "not so bad" - which I think might be the point of your article. At least you didn't blame Bush and suggest it's because not enough money was being spent on education.

THe DoE and all the teachers unions need to be blown up (sorry, not LITERALLY - that's a figure of speech), and rebuild the education system from the ground up. Sadly that will never happen.

p.s. we home educate and my daughter, still in
high school, aced her placement test for her
early enrollment at a local Jr. college. I asked her the same questions that was in the article and she scored 100%. She also knows who's buried in Grant's Tomb. :-)

Edd.Doerr said...

Anonymous misses my point. I was deploring and explaining the sad state of history teaching generally. And my millionaire nephew attended a Catholic high school that was otherwise not bad. Further, my granddaughter just graduated magna cum laude from an excellent public high school in Texas, excellent in every way except for the history classes. Still further, my colleague Al Menendez published a book (Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach (Prometheus Books, 1993, copies available from me for $8 at Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916) showing just how awful the teaching of history is in the half of all faith-based schools run by the fundies.

And yes , public schools are underfunded and Republicans are working hard to defund public schools and to divert public funds to sectarian indoctrination centers through vouchers and/or tuition tax credits, something we Humanists have long fought against.

It's nice that you are homeschooling your daughter, but be advised that the vast bulk of homeschooling is in the hands of religious fundamentalists who are not really doing any favors for their kids or our society.

As for teacher unions, without them education would be downgraded to the level of migrant labor.

Rdd Doerr

Anonymous said...

Mr. Doerr - It's me again. I'm hesitant to debate this with you because honestly you are probably way out of my league debate skill wise. But let me just respond with a few points - central to my reply is that anyone who doesn't believe the education system is totally broken now will never believe it is.

1. I did miss the point that you were really deploring vs. explaining. You stated correctly that the lack of teaching of history leads to the obvious conclusion that our children are not learning history. I missed a sense of deploring the sad state our schools are in.
2. A high school that teaches only/mostly politically correct/multi-cultural emphasized history doesn't fit my criteria of "otherwise not bad". Reminds me of : "other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?". Educating the vast majority of children "not so bad" is a crime against society in my opinion. It's our future and our future is bleak enough.
3. If history is bad in 1/2 of the "fundie schools", that still 1000% better than govt. schools which educate some 80-90% of children?? My wife taught
in very high end secular and christian schools and the issue was multi-culturalism history being crammed down everyone throats vs. facts. All our traditional hero's and founding fathers are suddenly evil and bad for a variety of reasons.
4.Public schools are hardly underfunded. Bush increased funding from I think 30b to 60b and look where we are. More money isn't the solution. The unions protect the teachers, protect the older teachers, and it's almost impossible to fire teachers. You know the eg. in NYC where 100's are paid to sit around all day while it takes years to arbitrate their termination. I don't blame the unions - I blame the idiot politicians who give them what they ask for.
5. We just disagree on "favors done for our children and society". You are welcome to have your children and grandchildren have homosexuality taught to them in elementary school and accept gay marriage to be just as normal as traditional marriage. Have multi-culturalism taught instead of American exceptionalism. Have capitalism vilified and big govt. socialism promoted. Taught men and women are basically the same and that abortion is just dandy because "that's a woman's right".
6. We are just a notch above "migrant labor" quality as it is in eduation, so really how much worse can it be?
7. I probably care more about the moral character of my children than their academics. I'd prefer an honest and trustworthy C child vs. a dishonest and untrustworthy A student. I think most employers would agree. But getting both is certainly desirable and attainable.

We just want different values for our children, society and country.

Thanks for your respectful reply.

p.s. I live in San Antonio, grew up in Texas and there
are indeed many many great public schools - but home schooled children still run circles around them
by in large. and the H.S. movement is becoming more and more secular for reasons of education vs.religion. How can this be with mothers often who don't have more than a High-school education and often little money for materials, etc..(since they already paid their govt. school taxes).

Don Wharton said...

@anonymous You condemn the public school teachers and DoE when the evidence is that are not doing better and in most cases are worse. The worst public schools tend to be in Bible belt areas where funding is extremely low. I grant that DC is an exception on this point.

The problem with David Barton is that he lies repeatedly and his Bible thumping fans just do not care that he is writing fiction. We have amply documented his problems on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Did you mean to say "the evidence is that "you" are not doing better". I just didn't get your point as I think something was missing in your statement.

But then you say the worst schools are in the south where funding is extremely low. Not sure the connection between anything and south other than
southern states are lowest in per capita income??

Worst compared to what? the worst system in the world (U.S.) considering the per-student spending?

It's all about what you are measuring against I guess.
If you measure against Home education - where NON PROFESSIONAL mothers mostly teach their children on very low budgets, there is no comparison on a per student basis how home schooled children perform against govt. educated children. It's
always amazing to me (sad actually) when I go out in public how someone almost always comments about how my children are dressed, how they behave, they say
"yes sir, no sir", etc.. ... how they "stand out" vs. what the typical retail sales clerk deals with daily. My children are nothing special, but they are seen by the rest of the world as different - you would probably say "strange". I'm ok with strange compared to what I witness ever trip to Wal-Mart.

The foul, disrespectful and vulgar behavior of todays youth is a DIRECT result of their "education" in govt. schools.

And as I said earlier, if you don't believe the system is broken after all the billions spent, then you never will. I'm sure I won't convince you. Money isn't the issue.

A child in govt. school gets introduced to homosexuality and condoms in elementary school in
many states. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!! for crying out loud. They learn disrespect of teachers and
adults in general (ref. the
recent incident in Fla. where the teacher was physically confronted and fought back - only to
be brought up on charges that were later dropped).
They learn filthy language and begin to have sexual experiences - oral sex isn't sex these days - in
Jr. high. Alcohol and drugs get introduced early
in Jr. high if not in elementary school. By the time they enter college they've
had multiple (I've read as high as 30-50 different
"partners") sexual partners. Now in college
"hooking up" is like an obligatory kiss after the
first date. I barely even knew what "1st base" was in
high school, much less got there.

They learn to revere every ethnic minority group and despise anything Christian. They learn about how govt. socialism is better than american capitalism. If they go to college, they are taught ONLY liberal studies (which of course you believe is the ONLY truth) and risk failing if they dare take exception.

So for 16+ years they are brainwashed by libs. and you want to chastise me, as Mr. Doerr did, that because I desire a Christian based education for my children I'm not doing them or society any favors We for now, live in a free country and while you hate God, please look at the facts of what a godless educational system has given us these past 50 years.

In all due respect to you and Mr. Doerr, YES YES YES - I want a different education for my children - you are welcome to what the govt. offers. If the liberal
system we have today is what libs. now call "progressive", have at it - it's ALL yours!!!

The govt. system may meet your standards, but it's not on the radar screen for mine. Mr. Doerr should rightfully be proud of his grand daughter. But I want more than a 'book learning' education for my children, I want their morals and character shaped as well, and not by a God hating liberal system.

But again, if you don't believe our country is economically and morally bankrupt, which I'm sure you don't, then certainly this exchange won't change your mind. But thanks for the reply.

lucette said...


I guess your goal is to convince us that you have perfect children who have perfect, free, homemade teacher(s).
Since we don't have any way of checking what is going on in your model family, we must take your word for granted. The best solution might be to stop this endless discussion.

I hope that nobody else will use the "Anonymous" signature: communications would become even more difficult.

Anonymous said...


I use anonymous because the other identities don't fit. But knowing how identities are immediately
available throughout the internet, I'm fine
with anonymous for now. Lucette is so much more
revealing I'd admit.

I knew as soon as I commented about my children that I might get a reply like yours. My children are anything but ideal - my point if you listen is that
they seem to stand out for reasons that are totally
foreign to me. If your children are in govt. schools and you are happy with their academic and moral
training - knock yourself out. Your govt. education
after all is "free".

If you followed the thread - as rambling as it
is - I think you might conclude that my point was not about my children but about the horrific state of
govt. funded education in the US, which of course my "free" homeschooling is anything but free. Liberals defend the unions and the DoEd, like they
do with all unions and all unnecessary govt. spending. Big govt. is what you love. Watch the
video's of Greece so you can prepare your family for
what's coming to a city near you when (if?) we ever
make serious cuts to entitlements and welfare. Those who take from society will riot in the streets.
But alas, I forgot Mr. Doerr doesn't think I'm doing
much for society by educating my children to
have a "fundie" education. More welfare is the
solution no doubt.

And while libs. always are for free speech, isn't it interesting that your comment is to stop this
endless discussion since it doesn't fit your
"model family". ?? Liberals always amaze me
that they are all for "free speech" until it doesn't
agree with them, and then they want it stopped.

But then, as I read Huffington Post and NYT's, the liberal mind never ceases to amaze and astound me.
But I'm sure you feel the same about conservatives. For now we can disagree without fear of government consequence. For now.


Don Wharton said...

@Anonymous I am very comfortable with you posting as you wish. I think you are very honest and respectful to others who view our blog. And frankly I hope you continue to comment and communicate accross the vast cultural divide that we share.

I do not have time to respond to the details of your comments at this time. However, as the blog owner I want to make it clear to you that I want all replies to you be at least as respectful to you as you have been to our more liberal and secular readers. We need to know how and why people come to such vastly different views of the world when we each have equal access to the data concerning societal ourcomes.

Don Wharton said...

@Anonymous My email address is available on the right side of the blog and if you feel that a comment to you is ever rude or disrespectful feel to email me and I will review that comment for possible removal.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your reply. I'm sure you and your readers are just as passionate about what they believe as I am.
It is indeed very very interesting how vast the divide is. I just hold forth the premise that for Christians it is because we hear God/His word/His spirit/etc.. and not that of man. Even then man (preachers/teachers/etc.. and even Christian historians - David Barton - get off track. After all - they (we) are humans and sinners - ALL.

Since the post tended to turn into a discussion about Home Education, I noted today (sunday) the FRONT PAGE of NYT a nice article. Here is the link below fyi.

here are a few quotes I especially note worthy

"Their parents ( of 2 home schooled daughters who were in govt. school) opposed the idea two years ago when the girls proposed home-schooling, but now they are converts. “We see how beneficial it is,” Soraya Giffuni (mother) said. “Once they started home-schooling, the girls said they couldn’t believe how much time they’d wasted in (govt.) school.”

"Some had chosen the path for religious reasons, others to flee bullying, peer pressure or boring classes, ..."

"There were brief speeches from Ms. Rodriguez (organizer) “From this day forward, every decision you make should be a decision to honor your parent.”

Honor your parents - wow! what a novel concept. Govt. schools teach how to disrespect not only your parents but adults in general. It's all about "me" is what govt. schools (by in large) produce. My opinion.

So again, my emphasis is not that home education is perfect ... far far from it. But if parents who are not
"professional" educators, on very low budgets, can by in large produce very well educated (Harvard now
put home educated children in their top 25% category of ALL applicants) , hard working, diligent ,respectful, and highly moral children, what are we spending 60b++ for Govt. schools to turn out mostly just the opposite?? Again, like Mr. Doerr's grand daughter - there are MANY exceptions - but as a percentage is very very low.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak and I leave it up to God to change hearts, not my words.


Anonymous said...

The title of the article is
"After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional
Circumstances" (about a Home School
graduation ceremony)

Don Wharton said...


I regard it as a given that an intense focused attention via home schooling will generate effective communication of some of the material society wants to see acquired in the process of education. However, as you noted this is not without cost. With three percent of school age children now in home schooling we are talking about an enormous amount of manpower (largely women) who are taken out of the productive workforce for this reason.

I live in Montgomery County Maryland. Maryland is rated at the number one state for education by Education Week and Montgomery County is the highest rated County in Maryland. We deeply appreciate our schools and they perform at many levels including graduating the highest proportion of high school students of any large county school system. We have one of the highest average family incomes in the nation because we have extremely talented workers as a result of quality education.

Jeffrey was accepted at the University of Maryland at an elite level with substantial scholarship support. He graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors. He just called for Father's Day after completing his third year of medical school and the exams which will likely define which residency he will be accepted to after fourth year. It was a deeply respectful and loving call on both sides. Obviously I have benefited from the best of public school education without the slightest hint of the negative outcomes which you assert.

The major problem that I have with homeschooling is that it is used to instill many religiously inspired falsehoods. These are at the center of the cultural divide which both of us decry and you have honestly conveyed your views on many of them. I would like to focus on the one that appears to be the most simple, your bias against gays and the determination to convey this to your children. I presume that you realize that there is no significant difference in the rates of actual homosexuality based on religious training. The only difference in the extent to which such behavior is “in the closet” or visible to friends and family. There are many families for which children have been disowned once they let their parents know that they are gay.

What are the basis for your anti-gay views? Is it based on specific Biblical passages? Is it just what is asserted by those who call themselves Christians? Are there real world data that can be confirmed with the tools of secular science? Would disown your own son or daughter if he or she announce that they were homosexual?

lucette said...

My main problem with Don and Alan's discussion of homeschooling is that their point of view has nothing to do with humanism. Or more precisely, it is the views of libertarian elitism or the views of Ayn Rand. To me, humanism cares deeply about all humans, rich and poor, gifted and disadvantaged.
Homeschooling is elitist. One could argue that the blog is called "Secular Perspectives" and does not mention Humanism. However this blog is endorsed by WASH, i.e. the Washington Area Secular HUMANISTS. I think that WASH needs to review its endorsement of the "Secular Perspectives" blog. Unfortunately, I am not allow to write on the Washington Area Secular Humanists page and this is my only way of reaching WASH.

Anonymous said...

To Lucette - Our discussion has EVERYTHING to do with Humanism v. God in schools. Independent of the issues I raise with govt. schools, a very large portion of the population desire a God centered education. Hence home education (not exclusively but predominantly) and Christian Schools.You won - everything BUT God can be taught in govt. schools that I pay $10,000 per year in school taxes here in central texas. If govt. schools could at least produce a good product educationally, I would GLADLY pay that money. They fail miserably and I still pay (because I have to).

To Don - You should rightfully be proud of your son. Congratulations. As you note, he had some very unique advantages of where he grew up and I'm guessing his gene pool (his mama and papa) gave him a great intellect. My challenge is that OVERALL govt schools are failing and I just heard the number $80b is now spent. Probably almost triple from 2000? (a guestimate). So my claim is that more money isn't the issue - it seems to me that the more we spend the further behind we get. We were a highly educated nation before Mr. Carter started the DoEd. I suspect we'd do better now without it. Another eg. of govt. bureaucracy out of control. One other comment: the majority of home school mom's considered it their greatest privilege to educate and train their children - hence why they have so many children to start with. and while they do often sacrifice financially with 1 income, for what better purpose as parents do we all willingly sacrifice for out children and as I've stated before, as Christians we place the moral training above the classroom training. No one can defend, excluding the exceptions of high income/well funded schools, how morally corrupted (sex, drugs, violence, disrespect for adults/authority, etc..) the vas majority of govt. schools are.

What continues to baffle me about your beliefs Don, is that you see all the negatives with home education and seem to just believe we're doing our children and society a disservice all based on the fact that we hold to a foundation of Godly principles and want that taught. Look at the results vs. govt. schools.

I realize you don't believe in or want God introduced, so you won that battle with govt. schools. But it seems to me you are trying to eradicate God from our society - start with public eradication and next comes private censorship.

I will answer you comment about the foundation of my gay bias in the next post. Regards, Alan.

Anonymous said...

To Don -

Do you prefer a gay or straight children? I asked
"preference" and not anything about loving, accepting, etc..

I've worked on a reply for 1 1/2 hrs. and now just got the 4,096 limit. :-( ...

I do want to reply, but let me gather my thoughts tomorrow. It's honestly not a topic I dwell on or
discuss much where I live (central texas). yes,
a very conservative area, like where you live I would guess is very liberal?

more later ... Alan

lucette said...


Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism are not necessarily related at all. There are all kinds of combinations of these three independent worldviews.
Public schools are only required to be secularist. Note that many public school teachers are religious, and it is their right, but they must adhere to secularism on the job. The same restrictions apply to atheist teachers. They cannot proselytize.

Anonymous said...


Atheist teachers don't have to proselytize anything since the govt. doesn't allow teaching of God in schools, teaches evolution only, etc.. What offends me is how Atheist want to force their religion (atheism) on me by prohibiting free speech. For eg. like at the recent high school graduation where 1 family filed suite to stop the Valedictorian from offering a prayer of her choice. The case was overruled because Christian free speech is as protected as any other speech. As was the right of the family who protested, they did not attend. Everyone else cheered. Separation of Church and State was never meant to mean separate of State and God. God is not a church or a religion. Judeo Christian values are the foundations that made this country great. It allows for all forms of religion - atheism included.

I am fine with Atheism except when it steps on my freedoms and liberties as a Christian. You are welcome to not repeat the pledge or acknowledge other forms of God in public, but please allow those (the vast majority) to do so. I know you don't agree, but that's my opinion. I "tolerate" all forms of speech every day that I don't agree with.


Anonymous said...

Don wrote
"What are the basis for your anti-gay views?"

First, I don't believe I ever indicated any bias one way or the other, so you must assume that all Christians are biased agains homosexuals? Many churches accept them as members and allow them as pastors and in leadership, etc.. Not what I agree with, but christianity takes on all forms of implementation it seems. Some family may shun or disown a gay child. I think that's sad and I don't believe I would do that. I respected Dick Cheney when he publicly supported his gay daughter. I'm sure there was a fringe right wing group who howled, but IT"S HIS DAUGHTER. end of discussion.

Its always been interesting to me how a sexual preference would qualify as a disenfranchised group. But then that's the society I live in. Pedophiles are slowly chipping away, but even here the debate shows where the moral "bar" in this country is being set. But again, it's their right of free speech, as vile and disgusting as you and I find it to be.

I have no issues with homosexuals as members of society. It's their lifestyle I don't subscribe to, want to be socially involved with, accept as alternative, and don't want taught to my children. It is a moral preference. yes, I see homosexuality as immoral, just like I see lots of immoral issues daily that I must live with but I don't bring into my HOME.

My wife and I worked and lived in downttown San Francisco for 18 years. I worked with many very talented gays and I don't ever recall any professional issues. I didn't mix with their social lifestyle and vice versa. After work, going to a socialize with co-workers and then to witness a man who worked for me suddenly kissing another man was just pushing the level of my tolerance and acceptance. Ditto if I witnessed them doing drugs. What he/she did in their private life, and even public social life was strictly their business, but I didn't care to be part of that. My freedom of personal choice. Buy the way, we don't have T.V. at home as a matter of personal choice either. We, for now, live in a great country that tolerates freedom of choice (until the govt. tells me that I must have a T.V. and then I must listen to their propaganda each evening -- ooppss that's already happening ... It's called NBC/CBS/ABC
(a bit tongue in cheek Don :-) ...

And if you lived through a few Halloween's and Gay Freedom Month's in SF, perhaps you'd have a different opinion as well about the "pride" of the gay lifestyle.

Of course God makes it clear in His word how vile He considers homosexuality to be. Just like many things,
including abortion, I believe homosexuality is an un-natural and immoral act.

Just think how you would describe homosexuality to someone from Mars ...

Let me be clear - I'm not homophobic - I just have moral boundaries different from you perhaps. I don't "bash" gays or "hate" them nor want them driven from society. I don't condone their lifestyle but take offense when more and more their lifestyle is thrust upon me. And yes, while you probably believe that Christian educated children don't properly serve society (do a disservice I believe you said), how much more does gay marriage then?

The gay agenda is pushing for rights and
privileges well beyond just
equal acceptance in my opinion. They want heterosexuals to be the minority class and homosexuality to be the predominantly accepted lifestyle. My opinion.

I don't feel qualified to properly debate this topic as it's not something I think about or discuss that often. But I've answered your question, while inept, it was honest.


lucette said...

With all due respect, I have to clarify that atheism is not a religion, even if you say it is. Furthermore, the american public schools have to respect the first amendment to the Constitution and be strictly secularist. The group "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" can explain this to you much better than I can. Their website address is

lucette said...

Alan, In my last post, I repeated your name by accident. I could not change it by the time I noticed.

Anonymous said...


Like you, I am not a 'professional' at debating these topics. I don't expect to change your mind on
anything. However,

1. Atheism may not fit the commonly understood concept where God or a god is worshiped, but we all worship something. Hence, we all have "religion" of one form or another. Atheism is the religion of believing in the sovereignty of man and that no
"higher power" exists.

Wisconsin higher court finds that indeed Atheism is a religion;

The 2nd point. I have read the liberal perspectives by CItizens United for the Separation of Church and State. This citizen (me) doesn't subscribe to their views. I won't even attempt to enter a debate here the 1st amendment and how I believe liberals have successfully taken the letter by Thomas Jefferson and his use of that phrase - which as you know doesn't appear in the 1st amendment - to distort what was intended.

Evolution is the theory of man - hence atheism is indeed taught in schools while anything related to God cannot be. I pay school school taxes to promote your religion (evolution).

But again ... your have your faith and I have mine ... on moment of our death, 1 second later , we'll know what the TRUTH is. Until then ...


lucette said...

Nice to meet you Alan.