ABSTRACT

American history is the least-liked subject in high schoo!. Research shows that it is also the most dependent on textbooks. The latter is an astounding fact. Surely plane geometry, say, offers less opportunity to use books from the library, interview members of the community, or explore on the Internet. Many high school history teachers don 't know much history: a national survey of257 teachers in 1990 revealed that 13 percent had never had a single college history course, and only 40 percent had a B.A. or M.A. in history or had a major with "some history" in it. Unprepared teachers are not likely to encourage students to go beyond the textbook, because the textbook is all the history they know. According to educational researcher Seymour B. Sarason, teachers rarely say "I don't know" in c1ass and rarely discuss how one would then find out. "I don 't know" violates a norm. The teacher, like the textbook, is supposed to know. Teachers can end up afraid not to be in control of the answer, afraid of losing their authority over the c1ass. To avoid exposing gaps in their knowledge, too many teachers hide behind the textbooks, allowing their students to make "very little use of the school 's extensive resources," according to Linda McNeil, who completed three studies ofhigh school social studies c1asses between 1975 and 1981. I

Moreover, most teachers do not like controversy: a study some years aga found that 92 percent said they didn 't initiate discussions of controversial issues, 89 percent didn't discuss controversial issues when students brought them up, and 79 percent didn 't believe they should. Among the topics that teachers feIt students were interested in discussing but that

most teachers believed should not be discussed in the classroom were politics, race relations, and the Vietnam War.2