Putting Education Reform To The Test

Historian: Teachers Should Study Subject, Not Education

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Historian David McCullough says fewer Americans would be illiterate about history if more teachers studied the subject rather than education.

60 Minutes profiled historian David McCullough on Sunday night.

McCullough believes the U.S. is illiterate when it comes to history and says part of the blame is due to how the U.S. trains teachers.

Teachers should have to study a subject and not education, McCullough says.

Teachers must be passionate and knowledgeable about a subject to be effective.

From the interview:

Morley Safer: You, you, calling us historically illiterate.

David McCullough: Yes. I feel that very much so. I ran into some students on university campuses who were bright and attractive and likeable. And I was just stunned by how much they didn’t know. One young woman at a university in the Midwest came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she’d never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast. And I thought, “What are we doing that’s so wrong, so pathetic?” I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. Now, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. And when I say our fault I don’t mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.

Morley Safer: But are the teachers themselves semi-illiterate in history?

David McCullough: Well we need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers. I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. “Show them what you love” is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.


  • rdr1

    Part of the issue is what is expected of teachers today. Not only do we need to know our subject matter, we need to know how to relate complex information in a simple manner. Perhaps this would come naturally as our own understanding expanded.

  • educateFL

    Our Teachers need to be well rounded individuals who speak properly and also have proper manners. A teachers job is not to become the students’ friend, is to teach the students. however teaching is no longer part of schools, now is about passing FCAT. I was fortunate enough to have a classical education at home aside from going to school. I can honestly say i learned much more at home with my mom (who doesn’t have a degree in education) than what i learned at school. She was a single working parent who did not speak English and was educated out of the U.S. This country has more than enough resources to educate, we are just too worry about how a child will feel if they stay behind because they cannot read. The schools are just too worried because they can’t get enough funding for pep rallies and football games. Teachers need to get back to teaching.

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