Letters to the Editor

Teaching History Not Uncontroversial

David A. Gerber and Mary Sheila McMahon, February 1990

Diane Ravitch's letter in the October 1989 issue of Perspectives illustrates exactly the problem we were trying to overcome in our essay, "Running Out of Time," which appeared in the March 1989 issue of the newsletter.

No one, on any ideological platform, disputes the contention that students at every educational level need more and better history. What has not yet been addressed are the questions of how to teach more history at the university and college level within the constraints of the semester system, and how to deal with the fact that, as things presently stand, choices must be made in compressing history into a limited, institutionally-structured time-frame. Our essay was based on data from a survey in which we asked many history departments to address precisely those questions. We also offered our own and others' reflections on concrete classroom experiences teaching the survey of American history. We hoped through this common-sense empiricism to avoid intellectual posturing and to stimulate productive reexamination of the survey, which bears the significant burden of providing most of the American history our students in higher education learn.

Professor Ravitch takes one sentence out of this article and imputes from it an insidious attempt to score points in the polemic that has so long preoccupied her. Unfortunately, in her compulsive search for opponents, she seems to be losing sight of the many and varied sources of the gathering consensus on the need for more and better history.

David A. Gerber
Professor of History

Mary Sheila McMahon
Assistant Professor of History

State University of New York, Buffalo