Published Date

January 1, 1944

From American History in Schools and Colleges (1944)

This is an appropriate time for the appearance of a report on the teaching and study of American History. National crises naturally lead to national self-examination. The war has caused a reexamination of the purposes, extent, and quality of instruction in American History. Such appraisals enable the schools and colleges to reconsider their purposes and rechart their course. This report is the result of an organized attempt to restate the fundamental problems in the teaching of American History.

The teaching profession has long maintained a constant and active interest in the study and teaching of history. Committees, appointed by historical and educational associations, have made frequent surveys and reports designed to improve the quality of instruction. This committee has used the materials and studied the conclusions of its predecessors. It has focused its efforts not upon the whole field but primarily upon the teaching of American History.

This Committee on American History in the Schools and Colleges originated in the actions of two historical associations. In December, 1942, the Council of the American Historical Association authorized the appointment of a committee to report on the state of history, especially American History, at the college level. The outcome of the committee’s deliberations was to be embodied in constructive suggestions presented briefly and without great delay. On April 23, 1943, the following resolution was passed unanimously by the Mississippi Valley Historical Association in its meeting at Cedar Rapids:

Resolved that the incoming president of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association be empowered and instructed to appoint a committee to be designated as the Committee on the Teaching of American History in the Schools and Colleges;

That this Committee be instructed and authorized to study the current controversy concerning the teaching of American history and prepare a report consisting of a description and analysis of the situation, a statement of principles, and such specific recommendations as seem warranted;

That this report be made not later than October 1, 1943, and that it be given as wide publicity as possible.

Soon after the adoption of this resolution President Theodore C. Blegen, representing the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Guy Stanton Ford, Executive Secretary of the American Historical Association, and President Allen Y. King, acting by the authority of the Board of Directors of the National Council for the Social Studies, agreed upon the appointment of an identic committee. The following persons, with appointments from each of the cooperating associations, served on the Committee:

Theodore C. Blegen, University of Minnesota, chairman, ex officio.

Guy Stanton Ford, American Historical Association, chairman, ex officio.

O. Fritiof Ander, Augustana College

Harold W. Bradley, Stanford University

R. W. Cordier, State Teachers College, Clarion, Pennsylvania

Philip Davidson, Vanderbilt University

Dwight L. Dumond, University of Michigan

John D. Hicks, University of California

Harold M. Long, Glens Falls High School, Glens Falls, New York

Louis Pelzer, State University of Iowa

Paul Seehausen, Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, Indiana

Joseph R. Strayer, Princeton University

Howard E. Wilson, Harvard University

Edgar B. Wesley, University of Minnesota, Director

The Committee accepted the mandate of the sponsoring organizations and directed its efforts primarily toward an examination of the teaching of American history. It recognized, however, that American history could be neither studied nor taught in isolation from the more inclusive currents of world history. Furthermore, it was conscious of the fabric of interrelations which bind all branches of history to economics, political science, sociology, and to other disciplines both within and beyond the social science field. While its major attention and all of its report are centered upon the history of the United States, it neither minimizes nor underestimates the value and importance of other subjects.

A consideration of all aspects of the study and teaching of American history would have been beyond the time and resources of the committee. It therefore consciously excluded from its report the problems of measurement, the details of the organization of materials, and the consideration of classroom methods.

The Committee began its work with a keen realization of its responsibilities. Within the brief period of its activity (June 1 to October 1, 1943) it held three general meetings and devoted many hours to preparing materials and reading reports. The Director devoted his full time to the work of the Committee.

The Committee started its work under favorable auspices. For many years the literature on the social studies and on the teaching of history has continued to grow. The extensive report, published in seventeen volumes, of the Commission on the Social Studies of the American Historical Association furnished a background of information which greatly facilitated the work of this Committee. The yearbooks and reports of other organizations, notably those of the National Council for the Social Studies, also contributed to the preparation of this volume. In addition to reviewing extant literature this Committee carried on a considerable number of brief but intensive studies.

Educational policy should be based upon evidence, and the Committee made every effort to secure evidence bearing on the problems which it investigated. The Committee has not hesitated, however, to draw conclusions from the evidence, and to make recommendations which rest upon value judgments. To have done otherwise would have been an evasion of the responsibility placed upon it.

The Committee devoted long hours to its discussions and argued each point vigorously. In the end we found ourselves in substantial agreement. This report is therefore published with the unanimous consent of the members of the Committee. While an individual member may disagree with a particular detail, no one dissents from the report as a whole.

This report discusses several fundamental issues. It describes the extent and quality of popular knowledge of American history; it weighs the functions of history and shows why the subject deserves attention; it surveys history programs in the schools and colleges and calls attention to the numerous popular agencies of historical instruction; it redefines the place of history within the social studies field; it recommends the minimum content of American history courses at the various levels of instruction; it outlines a program for the education of the history teacher; it discusses the relation between the public and the teacher; lastly, it makes a series of other recommendations concerning the teaching of American history in the schools and colleges.

The Committee urges the public and educators, particularly teachers of the social studies, to consider its proposals. It recommends that they discuss both the merits and the deficiencies of the report. The issues treated in this volume deserve continued study. Whether the position of this Committee on a particular issue is upheld or condemned may not be vital, but it is important that American boys and girls receive the kind of instruction in the history of their country which will help to prepare them for active, intelligent citizenship.

Acknowledgments for help of various kinds are due many persons. While it is not feasible to list the names of the thousands who took the Committee’s test, their participation is acknowledged and appreciated. The Committee is under obligations to those who prepared reports, compiled statistics, and made special studies.

For research and the preparation of reports the Committee is indebted to Margaret McKinney, Butler University; Helen Busyn, Summit School, St. Paul, Minnesota; Edith West, University High School, University of Minnesota; Polly Hollis, University of Minnesota; Philip D. Jordan, Miami University.

The Committee acknowledges the criticisms and suggestions of C. C. Barnes and Stanley E. Dimond, Detroit, Michigan; Erling M. Hunt, Teachers College, Columbia University; Allen Y. King, Cleveland, Ohio; Mary G. Kelty, Washington, D. C.; Roy A. Price, Syracuse University; Gertrude Atherton, San Francisco, California; Paul Jacobson, University of Chicago; Ralph Turner, Washington, D. C.; Burr W. Phillips, University of Wisconsin; Hilda Taba, University of Chicago; Ruth West, Spokane, Washington; Fremont P. Wirth, George Peabody College for Teachers; I. James Quillen, Stanford University; Wilbur Murra, Washington, D. C.; William Anderson, Theodore Brameld, Evron M. Kirkpatrick, A. C. Krey, Lester B. Shippee, Ernest S. Osgood, Lloyd M. Short, George M. Stephenson, Don M. Castleberry, and Horace T. Morse of the University of Minnesota; William F. Shirley, Marshalltown, Iowa; Edith B. Oagley Levins, Binghamton, New York; Wesley M. Gewehr, University of Maryland; Solon J. Buck, George Smith, Richard J. Purcell, Paul O. Carr, Major Jesse Douglas, Captain Hugh M. Cole, Captain H. A. DeWeerd, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Eber Jeffery, and Kenneth Stampp of Washington, D. C.; Oliver Heckman, Pennsylvania State Department of Education; Nelle E. Bowman, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For answering inquiries, supplying materials, and extending other courtesies the Committee is indebted to the following persons: Superintendent T. H. Cobb, Urbana, Illinois; Elmer Ellis, University of Missouri; C. William Vogel, University of Cincinnati; G. W. Rosenlof, University of Nebraska; Cecelia Howe, Janesville, Wisconsin; David G. Ryans, Cooperative Test Bureau, New York City; Glenn L. Lembke, Pasadena, California; Jennie Pingrey, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; Raymond D. Bennett, Ohio State University; Frederick Merk, Harvard University; R. O. Hughes, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Harold G. Thompson and Warren W. Knox, New York State Department of Education; Vernon L. Nickell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Springfield, Illinois; Judge Herbert Goodrich, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; P. C. Dunsmore, Toledo Public Schools, Toledo, Ohio; Assistant Superintendent Carroll Reed, Washington, D. C.; Superintendent Paul M. Monroe, Columbus, Georgia; Superintendent L. L. Carlson, Lewiston, Idaho; Roy G. Bose, Santa Monica, California; Harlan R. McCall, Charlotte, Michigan; Superintendent L. H. Dominick, Fergus Falls, Minnesota; Katherine D. Hart, Anniston, Alabama; Superintendent R. E. Hood, Brunswick, Georgia; Assistant Superintendent E. S. Shannon, Wood County Schools, Parkersburg, West Virginia; Superintendent G. F. Loomis, Kenosha, Wisconsin; Superintendent J. H. Rose, Greenville, North Carolina; Superintendent John D. Rue, Kearney, Nebraska; Assistant Superintendent W. Virgil Smith, Seattle, Washington; Erwin J. Urch, University City, Missouri; Karl W. Bigelow, American Council on Education, Washington, D. C.; President Harry M. Gage, Lindenwood College, Superintendent O. E. Domian, Waseca, Minnesota.

For administering tests, we are indebted to the following persons: Evron Kirkpatrick, Frances Naftalin, and Paul Sharp of the University of Minnesota; Al Biorge and John Donnelly, Minneapolis Junior Association of Commerce; E. A. Metcalf, Rock Island, Illinois; Elaine Forsyth, New York State Teachers College, Albany; Kenneth F. Happy, Glens Falls, New York; Rodney B. Chipp, Rensselaer, New York; Kenneth B. Thurston, Indiana University; Donald R. Gill, Berrien Springs, Michigan; Private M. Price, Camp Sibert, Alabama; Edith E. Starratt, Sherburne, New York; L. G. Wesley, Lexington, Kentucky; Thomas D. Clark, University of Kentucky; Marion F. Noyes, Cobleskill, New York; Edna H. Barwick, Rock Island, Illinois; Culver H. Smith, University of Chattanooga; A. F. Schersten, Rock Island, Illinois; Edward M. Read, Webster Groves, Missouri; Mary Cunningham, West Plains, Missouri; Ruth B. Nelson, Albert Lea, Minnesota; Charles Gates, University of Washington; J. E. Pearson, Wheaton, Minnesota; Cecelia R. Irvine, West Los Angeles, California; C. W. Wilcox, Bisbee, Arizona; John Pettibone, New Milford, Connecticut; H. E. Stahl, Claymont, Delaware; T. H. Correll, Moscow, Idaho; Terrence A. Kleckner, Bremen, Indiana; Lyman L. Jones, Amite, Louisiana; Henry G. Perkins, Ellsworth, Maine; Thomas W. Pyle, Bethesda, Maryland; Paul A. Schalm, Clawson, Michigan; Chester F. Rausek, Redwood Falls, Minnesota; Wilma Giles, Albany, Missouri; Alex McBride, Bridger, Montana; Bruce E. Russell, Hampton, New Hampshire; Thomas G. Leary, Beaufort, North Carolina; Menard McCrea, Ashley, North Dakota; Glen Tonkinson, Stillwater, Oklahoma; Laura Waterman, Lakeview, Oregon; Eldon D. Wedlock, Apponaug, Rhode Island; Louis W. Christensen, Morgan, Utah; Walter D. Gallagher, Fair Haven, Vermont; Walter G. Miller, Winslow, Washington; A. H. Loken, Adams, Wisconsin; and the principals of the high schools of Danville, Kentucky, and Dover, New Jersey.

For help and advice on the testing program the Committee is grateful to Howard R. Anderson, Cornell University; E. F. Lindquist, State University of Iowa; Walter W. Cook, University of Minnesota; G. Lester Anderson, University High School, University of Minnesota.

For sending catalogues and furnishing information on enrollments in American history courses, the Committee is indebted to the registrars and departments of history of many colleges and universities.

The Committee is especially appreciative of the kindness of S. C. Bolstad of the Educational Test Bureau of Minneapolis for his generosity in printing the tests without charge.

The Committee is appreciative of the work of Elizabeth S. Carter, who managed the details of the distribution and checking of the tests and rendered efficient secretarial service.

The Committee is under special obligations to Dorothy Merideth, University High School, University of Minnesota, for keeping a record of its meetings, for careful research on offerings and enrollments, and for thoughtful criticisms of all the chapters.

To the Rockefeller Foundation and to its representative, David H. Stevens, the Committee expresses its thanks for the grant which made this study possible.

Next section: Do Americans Know Their Own History?