The National Association of Scholars recently issued a very interesting report regarding the state of history programs in the State of Texas, but the report has ominous implications for history programs nationwide. Because of a 1971 Texas law requiring that students at public institutions complete at least two courses in American history, NAS decided to examine history programs there to see whether they were meeting this requirement. What they found was disturbing.
The NAS researchers discovered that the history programs at the University of Texas, Austin and Texas A&M University (the two representative campuses used in the study) overemphasized politically correct topics such as race, class, and gender to the detriment of other important aspects of history, such as America’s diplomatic, scientific, military, philosophical, and religious history. These important topics received little attention as more than half of the history faculty members at these institutions focused on the race, class, and gender issues.
The NAS study also found that rather than assigning important foundational and primary source documents for students to read as part of the history curriculum, 78% of UT faculty and 50% of A&M faculty instead assigned readings focused on race, class, and gender. NAS states that Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and the Gettysburg Address, for instance, were rarely assigned, and numerous political documents, such as the Mayflower Compact and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, were not assigned in any American history courses. Not coincidentally, these excluded documents tend to emphasize America’s religious roots. Of the 100 “milestone documents” of US history published by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which includes texts such as the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, the report states that only 23 were assigned, and these were only assigned by ﬁve faculty members (out of the 46 total). The report concludes, “In other words, 89 percent of faculty members teaching lower division U.S. history courses assigned none of the 100 key documents, and 77% of the documents went totally unassigned.”
But the history curriculum is really no surprise, given that the NAS study also found that 78% of UT faculty and 64% of A&M faculty had research interests in race, class, and gender issues, showing little academic diversity among faculty members. For institutions that routinely emphasize “diversity,” diversity of thought apparently is not a concern.
Why should we care about these findings? First, they are especially disturbing because they only promise to get worse. Almost certainly as a result of the increasing imbalance of the history curriculum, the views of history graduates in academia are becoming even more polarized. As KC Johnson pointed out on Minding the Campus,
The developing pedagogical groupthink is likely to become more, not less, intense as time passes and older faculty members retire. According to the report, “83 percent of UT faculty members teaching these courses who received their Ph.D.s in the 90s or later had RCG research interests, while only 67 percent of UT faculty members who received their Ph.D.s in the 70s or 80s had RCG research interests. 90 percent of A&M faculty members teaching these courses who received their Ph.D.s in the 90s or later had RCG research interests, while only 36 percent of A&M faculty members who received their Ph.D.s in the 70s or 80s had RCG research interests.”
He also points out that the problem is likely far worse nationwide, given that if any institutions should have more of a balanced view of American history, it should be these Texas institutions:
Texas A&M has a significant military contingent in the student body and alumni base. The University of Texas is home to the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs. Its campus hosts the LBJ Presidential Library. The Texas State Capitol is down the street from campus. The intellectual atmosphere on both campuses, then, is likelier to be far friendlier to “traditional” types of U.S. history than is the case at most universities.
This, in many ways, is the most depressing aspect of the NAS report. If UT and Texas A&M represent best-case scenarios among major universities in how U.S. history is taught, how bad is the typical campus likely to be?
Finally, it is extremely alarming that some of America’s most respected public institutions of higher education are graduating students who are essentially illiterate in important aspects of America’s history and heritage, which can only have negative impacts on how these graduates, our next generation, view our country, as well as the values they hold.