Peter Berkowitz | Failing History: Colleges Neglect Core U.S. Principles

The trench warfare between President Obama’s Democratic Party and the House-led Republicans over the budget, entitlements, and regulation reflects a profound and historic difference of opinion over the size and scope of the federal government.

Accurately understanding what’s at stake in this struggle requires knowledge of American history. But that’s exactly the kind of subject liberal education is denying today’s college students.

Because the people are the ultimate source of legitimate power in a liberal democracy, the United States has an interest in a citizenry well-acquainted with the principles on which our political order is based; the nature and development of our economic system; the role of diplomacy and military affairs in securing American liberties; the impact on our manners and mores of religious belief; and the quest for equal treatment of minorities, women, and the poor.

Unfortunately, according to a new report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), “Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?,” our colleges and universities are doing a bad job. More precisely, as the NAS report documents, history departments promote a drastically incomplete and distorted vision of America by concentrating on the teaching of race, class, and gender at the expense of nearly everything else.

Since universities generally avoid transparency and accountability, it is notoriously difficult to determine what exactly is taught in their classrooms.

Texas, however, is different: It mandates that undergraduates at public universities take two courses in American history. The state also requires that public universities make easily available faculty members’ backgrounds, research interests, course assignments, and course syllabi. As a result, NAS was able to determine with precision for the fall semester of 2010 the content of lower division American history classes that satisfy the state’s requirement at the University of Texas and Texas A&M, the state’s two largest public universities.


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