BOSTON - Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough told the nation's state legislators Tuesday (Aug. 7) schools need to do a better job of educating American students about significant past events and personalities.
Speaking for nearly an hour without notes, the best-selling author warned that students in this country are growing up historically illiterate. A key to solving that problem is to make sure teachers are better prepared for the classroom, he told the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"We've got to get over this idea that teachers are sort of glorified babysitters who take care of our children or our grandchildren while we're doing the important work. They are doing the important work. And we've got to do a much better job of teaching our teachers," McCullough said.
McCullough, author of two best-sellers about the American Revolution, praised Illinois State University at Normal, Ill., the University of Oklahoma and the University of Pennsylvania for requiring future teachers to have a subject major outside of education.
"For a young person to go into teaching and graduate with a degree in education and no major of the usual kind is to send that person into the classroom with an enormous handicap, which will be passed on to her students," he said.
On top of that, higher education in general should set more specific course standards, he urged.
"Of the 50 supposedly best colleges and universities in the country, at very few of is history required for graduation. In many cases no foreign language is required nor any science requires and yet we say to these people on commencement day that they are educated. Who are we kidding?" McCullough said.
McCullough also said many textbooks are so "dreary and boring" that they seemed to have been written with the intention of killing interest in history. The popular Harry Potter series of books proves that younger children are capable of digesting complex information on any topic if it is presented as interesting story, he said
"If I were in your role, if I had a chance to direct where money would be applied to improve the situation of the teaching of history in our schools, I would concentrate on grade school - third, fourth, fifth sixth grade - because that's the time that they want to know," he said.
"At that age … it's not yet cool to be dumb and they're not afraid to ask what might be taken as a dumb question," McCullough said.