The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 362
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
hurried pace of urban life; instantaneous travel; television wars and
worldwide tragedies beamed via satellite into the living room almost as
they happen; ear-smashing, monotonous music from prosthetic instru-
ments like electric guitars and synthesizers; fast foods; plastic surgery
(don't exercise when you can get a quick "tummy tuck"); instant cures
for baldness or impotence; overnight sex changes; shifting sexual pref-
erences; mind-altering drugs; constant exposure to change and violence
and the horrors of a world that can blow itself to pieces-all of these
explain historical illiteracy, which is the creation of the twentieth cen-
tury's flattening out or elimination of time as a measure of reality. Now,
for almost a century, the world's intellectuals, "screaming weenies," and
thinking, "hip" people of every class, race, and occupation have con-
sciously or unconsciously excised historical tradition from their agenda.
The 196os are what passed for our last "golden age" of history. With
astonishing suddenness, we are all on the starship Enterprise in warp
drive with no galactic compass. So why blame the pathetically short and
stretched-thin school experience for historical illiteracy?
This is, however, just what is done in Historical Literacy: The Case for
History in American Education, edited by Paul Gagnon and the Bradley
Commission on History in the Schools. Interestingly this report is the
work of a distinguished committee of educators from elementary and
secondary schools as well as many important university teachers of his-
tory. The commission is, in fact, chaired by Professor Kenneth T. Jack-
son of Columbia University. The fact that the commission is composed
of historians and classroom teachers is not all bad. It could have been
composed, as was the commission on Texas public schools, solely of
business executives and politicians. There accountancy and account-
ability were important words, and the suspicion was cast that all Texas
teachers might be not only historically illiterate but simply illiterate, pe-
riod. Characteristically the solution was to test-the teachers, not the
students-though most of the public school teacher's time is also taken
up with publishers' prepackaged testing, instead of teaching, with
photocopiers and mimeograph machines in constant use.
The Bradley Commission, on the other hand, includes expertise that
takes itself seriously, gets down to the nuts and bolts of the curriculum,
and sees itself as the successor of a long line of historical commissions
going back to the National Education Agency's famous 1892 Commit-
tee of Ten-really The Subcommittee on History, Civil Government,
and Political Economy. The outcome of that committee's deliberations
was that "college-bound students should take four years of history on
the secondary level." "History" broadens and cultivates the mind, and
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/406/: accessed September 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.