This week the Texas legislature is kicking off its 83rd session in Austin. The funding of public education in the state will be a hot topic as it always is, but this session, the content of public education will be worth a look. The National Association of Scholars today released the findings of a study into the contents of university-level history teaching at two of Texas’ (and the nation’s) most highly regarded public universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, in Bryan-College Station.
Specifically, the NAS looked at the syllabi and reading assignments of classes at both universities, in 85 sections of lower-division American history courses. These classes covered the state requirement, passed by the legislature in 1971, that all undergraduate students at Texas public institutions take two American history courses. What the NAS study found is very disturbing.
The study found that U.S. history courses at both universities strongly emphasize race, class, and gender (RCG) in reading requirements. Fully 78% of faculty members at UT emphasize race, class, and gender, while 50% of faculty members at Texas A&M do the same. Likewise, 78% of UT professors have special research interests in RCG, while 64% at A&M do too.
The study contends that the strong emphasis on RCG crowds out other relevant themes in American history, such as the nation’s intellectual, military, spiritual, and economic history. The emphasis on RCG studies also influences a further narrowing of history subject matter and the tailoring of “special topics” courses, which omit the use of significant primary source documents. These narrowed-focus classes, the study finds, “seem to exist mainly to allow faculty members to teach their special interests.”
The effect: Students at two of Texas’ flagship universities are not being assigned to study such important and influential milestones as the Mayflower Compact or President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. “Only one faculty member,” the study finds, “assigned the ‘Letter from a Birmingham jail’” or Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Major historical figures, from John Dewey to Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, are increasingly being left out of American history courses at both universities. The result of this is that we are losing touch with our history, replacing it with an overemphasis on grievances.
“These trends extend beyond the two flagship Texas universities,” the study report says. “History departments at other universities around the United States share similar characteristics, such as faculty members’ narrow specializations; high emphasis on race, class, and gender; exclusion of key concepts; and failure to provide broad coverage of U.S. history.”
The National Association of Scholars proposes 10 remedies to correct the imbalance of U.S. history teaching in universities. Those remedies include instituting external reviews to ensure that professors are not narrowing history classes down to their particular field of interest, and depoliticizing the teaching of history. “Historians and professors of United States history should counter mission creep by returning to their primary task: handing down the American story, as a whole, to future generations.”
Download and read the entire NAS “Recasting History” report here.