What is Happening to History in Our Schools?

I have read articles like this before.  Ronald Evans decries the Cold War decision to fold the teaching of history into what is now known as the “social studies.”

Part of my work load at Messiah College is to train future history teachers.  At Messiah, the secondary school social studies program is housed in the History Department (not in the Education Department).  Our students are thus trained to be historians, to think like historians, and to teach history.  Now granted, they also take courses in government, sociology, politics, economics, etc… so that they can pass the Pennsylvania State praxis exam, but they are, without a doubt, best equipped to be history teachers.

When I teach my course on teaching history, I challenge the pre-service teachers to teach their high school students how to think historically because I believe that history offers a way of seeing the world that is different than any other discipline.   I want my students’ students to be able to understand how to read primary sources critically, contextualize sources, learn that there might be multiple perspectives to any event, and develop empathy and humility.

Yet many of my students find that when they get their first job they are entering a world of history and social studies that is not defined by historical thinking skills, but rather by test scores, facts, and “coverage.”

How does one balance the growing literature on teaching historical thinking with state requirements and a culture of testing that discourages this kind of teaching?