Where Do You Skimp in Your United States Survey Course?

I spent about 7 minutes in today’s lecture discussing the Louisiana Purchase

I wish I could say that every aspect of early American history gets equal coverage in my United States History survey course.  (I teach the first half of the survey). 

Today I covered the entire period between 1800 and 1812 in one lecture.  I usually devote two lectures to this period, but I was behind schedule.  This means that I discussed the Election of 1800, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, the Embargo Act of 1807, the War Hawks, the Madison presidency, Tecumseh and the Prophet, and the War of 1812 in 50 minutes.  
I spent three lectures on the 1790s (domestic and foreign affairs, including a showing of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale) and will follow today’s Jefferson coverage with lectures on the Southern economy and the northern economy in the early republic.

I usually spend a couple of lectures on Jackson and about five or six lectures on the period between 1848 and 1865.
As someone who specializes in the colonial and revolutionary periods, I tend to spend a lot more time on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than I do on the nineteenth century.  
How about you.  Where do you skimp?

19 thoughts on “Where Do You Skimp in Your United States Survey Course?

  1. Critical as against what standard? There is nothing to false as neutrality.

    “I was Chair of Political Science at Duke for ten years. At a meeting of department heads, we heard from the chair of one our Departments of Indignation Studies.

    (We have several departments named “Something-or-Other Studies.” In most cases, they were constituted for the purpose of focusing indignation about the plight of a group that has suffered real and imagined slights and now needs an academic department to be indignant in.)

    At the meeting, the chair of one of those departments said, “I find that I don't really need to spend much time with the liberal students, because they already have it right. I spend most of my time arguing with the conservative students. That's how I spend my time in class.””

    http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=3050#.VASZ6GRdXlR

    I favor a narrative, as Tom does. As do you, if you'd admit it. I don't advocate pushing a certain narrative as much as presenting the minimum evidence to make an informed decision among competing narratives. That's what Tom proposed above. But it's easier to come to the “right” conclusion — the left one — without that context, so it's omitted. Lefty historians don't have to win they argument about who has the better narrative; they simply make it unnecessary — indeed, impossible — ever to have that argument.

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  2. The use of “we” here is entirely creepy, and damning.

    Never think I write for you or to you. Your approach to knowledge is adversarial and uncooperative, not Socratic, but more like Law & Order.

    If anyone else is reading, the nail on the head. Please rethink what you're doing, or at least what your colleagues are doing:

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/2014/danusha-v-goska/ten-reasons-why-i-am-no-longer-a-leftist/
    _________________
    My students do know — because they have been taught this — that America is run by all-powerful racists who will never let them win. My students know — because they have been drilled in this — that the only way they can get ahead is to locate and cultivate those few white liberals who will pity them and scatter crumbs on their supplicant, bowed heads and into their outstretched palms. My students have learned to focus on the worst thing that ever happened to them, assume that it happened because America is unjust, and to recite that story, dirge-like, to whomever is in charge, from the welfare board to college professors, and to await receipt of largesse.

    As Shelby Steele so brilliantly points out in his book White Guilt, the star of the sob story my students tell in exchange for favors is very much not the black aid recipient. The star of this story, still, just as before the Civil Rights Movement that was meant to change who got to take the lead in American productions, was the white man. The generous white liberal still gets top billing.

    In Dominque La Pierre’s 1985 novel City of Joy, a young American doctor, Max Loeb, confesses that serving the poor in a slum has changed his mind forever about what might actually improve their lot. “In a slum an exploiter is better than a Santa Claus… An exploiter forces you to react, whereas a Santa Claus demobilizes you.”

    That one stray comment from David Horowitz, a man I regarded as the enemy, sparked the slow but steady realization that my ideals, the ideals I had lived by all my life, were poisoning my students and Paterson, my city.

    After I realized that our approaches don’t work, I started reading about other approaches. I had another Aha! moment while listening to a two minute twenty-three second YouTube video of Milton Friedman responding to Phil Donahue’s castigation of greed. The only rational response to Friedman is “My God, he’s right.”

    1) Hate.

    If hate were the only reason, I’d stop being a leftist for this reason alone.

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  3. Because employers want to their college graduate employees capable of using critical thinking.

    John Dewey recognized the need to develop critical thinking as a pedagogical goal decades ago. Want to know where he got the inspiration from? The Socratic Method.

    I think the problem for you is that we do not teach a version of history that fits your belief structure. We use facts. You don't like facts that conflict with your opinion. Well, that's just too bad for you.

    If you want to teach learn how to teach. If you want to be a historian, learn how to be one. Until then, you are just another whiner crying because you are not getting your way.

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  4. The usual. Begged questions passed off as “critical thinking.”

    Was Abraham Lincoln a racist?

    Was the Dust Bowl crisis Mother Nature's fault or the consequence of human greed?

    “We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” — C.S. Lewis

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  5. Heh heh.

    If we left things up to you students would still be memorizing facts and writing on slate tablets. Fortunately, historians have advanced the study of history and left you behind in the ash pile of the past.

    You never fail to prove my point, comrade.

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  6. You know, Tom, I was treating you as a normal human being, but I see that is a waste of time. You are not an educator nor are you a historian. You have a limited viewpoint which you show most of the time and for that reason I am glad you are not in education because you have no business trying to teach anything.

    If we left things up to you students would still be memorizing facts and writing on slate tablets. Fortunately, historians have advanced the study of history and left you behind in the ash pile of the past.

    You don't even understand how the survey course works, but that is not surprising. You have a limited understanding of education and history.

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  7. Hilarious. You people can't help yourselves.

    Plus you skipped right past the discovery and colonization of the New World, the beginning of slavery in the British colonies, the establishment of white supremacy in the colonies, and the beginnings of the Native American genocide which would take three centuries to almost accomplish.

    As a matter of fact, you missed my point completely.

    “The next two modules should shed light on the the rest–how America fought for her principles, how she betrayed them, and mostly how she conveniently ignored them.”

    contemplating rubbing America's nose in her sins and crimes as you people love to do, but also rediscovering her ideals and how she has sometimes lived up to them.

    Because sometimes you should praise a dog, not just beat it all the time.

    As for your argument that I described political history, there is some merit in that. However, the academic establishment has mutated the study of history into mere sociology, where the travails of Native American lesbian Zoroastrians in Wisconsin carry equal standing as the Gettysburg Address.

    Race/class/gender ideologues have debased the study of history, for when everything or everyone is significant, nothing is.


    I am working on some of the issues involved in increasing the transfer of knowledge between instructors and students. One of the problems we have in college level education is a lack of a pedagogical model to help instructors literally teach better. That is why I am working on developing a Interactive Learning model. It is a variant of the models used by some instructors and schools via Sam Wineburg and Bob Bain. The idea is to implement it in the US History survey course.

    Will it work? There is only one way to find out.

    Unconscionable to experiment on the students who are paying good money for an education. This is how the education establishment has betrayed its trust, treating its students as pedagogical playthings.

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  8. You are looking at the political history of the US. That is only part of what gets taught in the survey course. How did America develop as a nation involves far more than just political thought.

    Colonial history is important to the founding of the nation because those experiences developed the people that became Americans and began the Revolution. To teach the beginnings of democratic philosophy just takes away from the survey course.

    I am working on some of the issues involved in increasing the transfer of knowledge between instructors and students. One of the problems we have in college level education is a lack of a pedagogical model to help instructors literally teach better. That is why I am working on developing a Interactive Learning model. It is a variant of the models used by some instructors and schools via Sam Wineburg and Bob Bain. The idea is to implement it in the US History survey course.

    Will it work? There is only one way to find out.

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  9. Jimmy, I see your point, but you can't start beating the animal until you know what species it is. The past is prologue. I'm not the intended audience for this post, I'm just a working attorney who always did well in school, made A's in history, even got AP US History and US Government credits, yet learned nothing about it except the toil and trouble the US caused, the three branches, gerrymandering, and a few bluebooks' worth of names and dates. I didn't begin learning about where America fit into the history of ideas until law school. I happened to be intellectually curious, but many of my fellow students had already been Zinned into cynicism about there being any nobility in the American idea. This is why people keep asking questions like “What's the Matter With Kansas?” Do people really believe in ideas? You better believe they do.

    Again, you're right that US History courses can't take up all the slack. Schools suck at teaching philosophy and religion, which is where students could also be picking up this prologue to the US founding, and thus the point of paying attention to any of it. At any rate, if you skip the beginning, you might as well skip all the rest too. A farmer might have to take a day off, but it better not be planting day.

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  10. Tom, the beginning part of your idea would be applicable to an American government course. In the American History survey course you're adding content to the system which means you have to cut even more out somewhere else. Plus you skipped right past the discovery and colonization of the New World, the beginning of slavery in the British colonies, the establishment of white supremacy in the colonies, and the beginnings of the Native American genocide which would take three centuries to almost accomplish.

    All of these are important events which impact future events throughout the entire period of history we discuss. I do think making the American Revolution period into a major module is important. Since my state requires Constitution learning to take place in this course as well, I have to devote time to it, but nowhere near the time a proper discussion of the document deserves. I also have to throw in some Missouri government teaching which does not fit this course at all. Both the Constitution and Missouri government should be part of the Government class, but it is not a required course. This survey course is. So to put focus on those elements means something has to be dropped.

    If students would expend their time in reading the sources, the textbook, and the other things they should be doing that would solve a lot of these issues. However, the survey class often is a first or second semester course for most students. They not have lousy study habits, poor critical thinking skills, inadequate reading comprehension talent, and a dearth of good analytical writing ability. Those elements are developed during the college years, so you cannot expect them from a first year college student. Instead, you have to help develop those skills. It is all part of a process.

    This also puts us right back to incorporating content to help develop those skills. We just do not have enough time to insert everything we want to in the survey course as it stands now. I think we would do much better if we could break the standard two course system into a three course system. Then the first survey course could have room for more detailed looks at the Constitution for example. But even then we have the problem of shrinking attendance in the other two sections. For every possible solution, there are additional problems. It seems to be the nature of higher education.

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  11. I would expend at least one “module” on the pre-Founding. Greek democracy, Roman law, the Stoics, Aquinas and the Scholastics, the Protestant Reformation and then how Calvinism/Presbyterianism revolted against the English crown, both in 1600s Britain then in 1700s America.

    I would expend the next module on the American Founding principles. The Founding 1.0 was the Revolution of 1776, the Founding 2.0 was the Constitution of 1787.

    The next two modules should shed light on the the rest–how America fought for her principles, how she betrayed them, and mostly how she conveniently ignored them.

    And since I believe in the decency of the American culture, I think we ignore them not only from mild self-interest, but more tragically, from great moral cowardice.

    For I believe tha moral cowardice dictates the history of man, but moral courage writes it.

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  12. I am putting together the plan for next semester's course using my Interactive Learning pedagogical model. I have 15 chapters to cover in thirty 90 minute sessions. I have to include syllabus day, What is History, and then go into North America before the European Discovery. I end with Lincoln's assassination and a short How the Civil War is Remembered talk.

    The question always comes up about what to include and what to exclude. There is no right answer. I am going to use the goalpost method, divide the course into four modules with a midterm and final. I then place X number of lectures in each module. Some modules are longer than the others which means content gets compressed. There is just no way around it.

    1800-1824 gets some very short attention. I have five sessions allocated to cover 1801-1845. That includes working with primary sources for the Jefferson and Jackson eras. So my lectures are going to move pretty fast. If I lose any days for weather and that almost always happens, I have to shorten the schedule somewhere and this is the area that gets hit.

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  13. I asked my Grandson, who is an Associate Professor in History at one of our local colleges, if he ever covered anything about the American Fur Trade in his first semester History survey class. He said, No. It didn't surprise me but I still find it upsetting that something so integral to the expansion and development of the American Frontier could be ignored.

    There is a real interesting Podcast over at the Junto Website about what they teach in their History Survey courses. Ken Owens, Roy Rogers and Ken Hattem discuss the same problems you are having and how they cope with the lack of time and abundance of material to cover.

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