Joking aside, while the rest of the nation flunks history, the South has taken a big lead. But that huge advantage won’t last unless legislators act quickly.
The myth of Southern education is that the region’s approach to history is full of little emphasis by teachers, little interest by students and lots of bias by textbooks.
But that’s not the case, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which grades states on their history programs. The region as a whole does better than the national average, with some Southern states topping the list nationwide on a scale that values content, clarity and challenging material.
The institute gave South Carolina the highest score: the only A in the country. Among the six A-minus states is Alabama. Georgia is one of three in the “B” range. That’s pretty good when you consider than the national average is a pathetic D. You can read more here: http://www.edexcellencemedia.net/publications/2011/20110216_SOSHS/SOSS_USHistory_Final_PressRelease.pdf
Among the other states in the South, Oklahoma snagged a B-plus. Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia earned at least a passing grade (a C). Arkansas and Kentucky scored no better than the national average, as did Texas (below average) while Mississippi and North Carolina earned a pathetic F for their efforts, or lack thereof.
Nationwide, eight states outside the South earned C’s, seven others earned Ds and there were 16 non-Southern states that failed. Rhode Island didn’t even get a score that could be calculated. States like South Carolina and Georgia were lauded for covering controversial topics like slavery with a minimum of bias, while the notorious Texas curriculum was slammed by the Fordham Institute for being politicized and distorted.
This is more than just a cute little blue ribbon for finishing first for the South. As the Fordham Institute repeatedly noted, knowledge of history is a key component in an educated citizenry.
“National History Day is one of the most underutilized programs in the country,” said my LaGrange College colleague Kevin Shirley, a history professor. “Only two local middle schools use this. We want all of them involved. None of the high schools do it around here. A recent study showed that students who participate in National History Day do better overall than others in terms of achievement. That’s why we’re trying to get a mentoring program started. Imagine what the score would be if all grades (6-12) would get involved.”
Just as the South appears to be leaving the rest of the nation in the dust comes word that some Dixie representatives and even the national legislature appear poised to gut some more funding that keeps programs like History Day available to schools and colleges that want to help organize them.
What this means is that the entire country can expect a slide closer to the F average, with Southern states slipping further down the scale, losing that crucial advantage.
Contact your member of Congress at http://www.contactingthecongress.org/, especially if you are a proud Southerner who wants to stay ahead of the country.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College.