Reforming High School American History Curricula: What Publicized Student Intolerance Can Teach Policymakers

23 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2015

See all articles by Douglas E. Abrams

Douglas E. Abrams

University of Missouri School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2015

Abstract

This article concerns the way public high schools teach American history under curricula and standards mandated by state law. “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate,” says David McCullough, the dean of American historians.

The article describes three recent nationally publicized incidents in which high school students belittled lynching and the Trail of Tears, evidently without appreciating the episodes’ legal and historical significance to African Americans and Native Americans respectively. Standards and textbooks typically recognize diversity and multiculturalism, but research and surveys indicate that classroom teachers frequently sanitize or avoid discomforting topics that might trigger complaints, protests, and even efforts at book banning.

As a nation proud of its heritage, the United States acting under state laws should not shrink from frank classroom dialog about the past. “Honest history is the weapon of freedom,” wrote historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., because “[t]he strength of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction.” Each generation enhances this capacity when educators candidly present both past triumphs and past tragedies.

Keywords: history, literacy, illiterate, school, schools, curricula, curriculum, lynching, diversity, Schlesinger, McCullough, educators, multicultural, multiculturalism

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Douglas E., Reforming High School American History Curricula: What Publicized Student Intolerance Can Teach Policymakers (June 1, 2015). Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, Summer 2015, Forthcoming; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2613086

Douglas E. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Missouri School of Law ( email )

Missouri Avenue & Conley Avenue
Columbia, MO MO 65211
United States
573-882-0307 (Phone)

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