I continue to be and will always be a great fan of James Loewen; I think he gets it too. I am often troubled by the history buff notion. Too many people who see the teaching, reading, writing, and learning of history as static; it should not change since there is only one voice. But for those of us who get it, we know that the dynamics of this great field of study is indeed organic. I am not a history buff; I live it through my constant and relentless approach to reading, writing, and teaching about it. In the book Lies My Teacher Told Me, Loewen notes:
Loewen’s critique, which centers on the lack of student engagement with historical controversy, the absence of analysis and interpretation, the “heroification” of our nation’s historical figures, and the subordination of cause and effect to the memorization of disconnected factoids, is a charge that reaches far down into the wellspring of current educational practice in the United States. And, for those of us who practice our craft in social studies classrooms across the nation, it stings.In fact, the education establishment has had a long and profound romance with the ubiquitous textbook. Textbooks have provided an inexpensive, standardized and structured foundation for schooling since the Reformation.
When students are questioned about their school experiences, they invariably cite history and social studies as among their least favorite classes. Social studies is generally perceived to be undemanding, uninteresting, and irrelevant. When they are asked to describe what it is that might make the discipline more interesting students tend to suggest that a greater variety in instructional methods (including simulations, role playing, group projects, etc.) less repetition, and greater relevance to student experience would improve their learning environment. Investigations by Loewen and others reveal that textbooks which burden students on the average, with huge (four and a half pounds), long-winded (888 pages on average) narrations, typically promoting 444 main ideas and 624 key terms and “countless other factoids”, provide the keystone that supports a very shaky structure. In their report on the first national assessment of history and literature in 1987 Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn, Jr., found that 59.6% of high school juniors used a textbook daily and that 71.4% of these students took a history test at least once a week. Yet these high school juniors could respond correctly to only 54.5% of the questions on the national assessment. In summarizing their findings, Ravitch and Finn, Jr. write that, “In the eyes of the students, the typical history classroom is one in which they listen to the teacher explain the day’s lesson, use the textbook, and take tests…They seldom work with other students, use original documents, write term papers, or discuss the significance of what they are studying (Ravitch and Finn, Jr., 1987).” When the NAEP’s comprehensive American history test results were made public in 1990, it was clear that America’s history students were still achieving at a level of C- in history (Nash, et al, 1997). Small wonder high school students find little relevance in their study of history and continually rank social studies at or near the bottom of their list when it comes to school subjects (Schug, et al, 1984).