Memo to Gadfly: History Failure Is a Historical Problem

“Okay, Mr. Hancock, if you’re so smart, how many of the freedoms protected in the Magna Carta can YOU name?”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The new Gadfly includes a guest editorial lamenting that our students don’t know civics, history, geography, etc. The editorial claims social studies is being “squeezed out” by accountability programs and that we should be “reinserting history and related subjects back into the curriculum.”

All this assumes that the failure of public schools to teach social studies effectively and the resulting colossal student ignorance of civics is a new phenomenon. Otherwise, the claim that social studies is being “squeezed out” and the call to “reinsert” it would make no sense.

But in fact this is not a new phenomenon. The catastrophic failure of social studies education in public schools is a subject with a long history. So what does that do to the story that social studies is being “squeezed out”?

Let me be clear: if I thought it were true that social studies was being squeezed out, but I also thought this would result in a change to our 70% national graduation rate (50% urban) and rampant illiteracy and innumeracy even among those who “graudate,” I would consider that a price well worth paying – and I say that as a social scientist. But the evidence that social studies is being squeezed out is not in fact convincing.

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