History is neglected in American public schools


Credit: The Atlantic

History is an exciting thing if you take a college course about it.

Understanding and learning history is one of the core tenants of the American public school system. However, it is also one of the most reviled school subjects, along with math.

Most people don’t like history until college. Understandable, given that college has a better vibe for learning; it isn’t bound by the absurd bureaucracy of poor standards that comprises the public education system.

Grade school history doesn’t feature reflection or depth, only focusing on the absolute bare bones of history with very little attention paid to the inner workings of historical events such as why something happened and what repercussions it had, etc.

While visiting AP European and American history classes at a nearby high school, I was appalled by the way they were run. They were nothing short of educational atrocities. The emphasis on memorization of dates is disturbing to me. It felt stale and inorganic, considering that it was supposed to be a learning environment. How on earth is this test style beneficial to anyone in terms of actual learning?

Public schools only want teachers to get through a set of expected teaching topics every school year. Meaning students have to memorize historical facts, most of which are from a single perspective.

There is no debate or honest intellectual discussion. This style does not give students an incentive to care about the material beyond a big test at the end of the year that will decide their future academic standing. The test is all that matters; no true thoughtfulness has gone into class material. Of course, that can sometimes depend on the teacher.

This is also a problem with other subjects. Many have come to use rote learning, or at least a form of it. Rote learning revolves around the idea that brute force memorization is the most effective way to study material for a test.

From my experience, this type of learning can be useful with math (I took Kumon classes for a few years…don’t take them if you know what’s best for you), but it cramped my brain and made me very stressed out. Rote learning teaches students to work hard instead of working smart. It stunts intellectualism because discussion is not encouraged. It makes history seem far less interesting than it actually is.

It’s no wonder many students in high school and middle school are so apathetic about history. It is considered by and large to be boring and unimportant. “It all happened in the past, why does it matter? It doesn’t affect me,” you might hear. History affects everyone in many ways, but schools fail to teach it beyond basic levels. It needs to be investigated below the surface level for it to truly be rewarding. Otherwise, it’s just the simple regurgitation of facts. How does that benefit anyone?

If you want a real history education, go to college and take a course. Public schools are clearly not schools of thought. They are schools of memorization.

Reed McCoy can be reached at [email protected] or @ReedMcCoy6 on Twitter.