Yeah, I know. I've been saying the same thing for quite some time now.
America's historian, David McCullough, recently revealed his thoughts on the current state of America's "esteemed institutions of higher learning" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
'We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate," David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, "I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don't know." Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. "It's shocking."
Of course, McCullough is no right-wing pundit simply railing against the ruling elite. He's a respected, Pulitzer prize winning (twice) historian in his own right. His concerns and warnings should be given serious consideration by all of us, particularly those in academia who claim to love their craft; yet who would normally be among the first to poo-poo most of McCullough's concerns. Let me take just a moment to highlight some of the points raised in the WSJ piece:
McCullough makes this observation:
"History is often taught in categories—women's history, African American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what."
As a fellow history blogger and a Civil War historian confided in me some time ago, it is difficult for historians to get advanced degrees in military history by focusing on battles and leaders. Much of the subject matter in the field has been exhausted. Thus, they now focus more on the "social aspect" of history - class, "gender" issues, race, etc. Case in point - read these recent posts (here and here) at Civil War Memory and see how the comments immediately gravitated to discussions on the abuses of "white men in power", race, sexuality, and discrimination against women. First, those commenting come off sounding like lab technicians examining something they don't quite understand (a different perspective and memory of the antebellum South) under a microscope. But put them under the microscope and examine their comments and thought processes as they discuss the topic and you'll kinda get an idea of what McCullough is talking about. Academic historians tend to gravitate to these issues because that's what their classes and professors focused on. They seem predisposed to head in that direction.
McCullough also brings up a point discussed often here - but, again, poo-pooed by complicit (and deceitful) academics:
What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."
One well known Civil War blogger went so far once in dismissing PC concerns as to say he didn't even know what political correctness meant. Really?
Again, McCullough raises a point I've raised as well:
"And they're so badly written. They're boring! Historians are never required to write for people other than historians."