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New Survey Shows What Parts Of U.S. History Kids Across America Are Actually Learning

Historians in the News
tags: culture war, teaching history, critical race theory



Amidst the heated debate around critical race theory, a new survey of states' U.S. history and civics standards sheds new light on what students are actually learning about race and racism.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now new insight into the fight over critical race theory and K-12 schools. Some families, mostly white, accuse schools of teaching children to be ashamed of their race in their country. Educators argue they're simply teaching the facts of U.S. history and say they're victims in a culture war drummed up by conservative activists. Into this fight arrives a new survey of states' history standards. And it says a lot about what kids are actually learning. NPR's Cory Turner explains.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Standards are a roadmap of a state's values, leading teachers to the historical figures and events that students should know. For this new survey, reviewers rated the U.S. history and civics standards for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., giving them letter grades, A through F, for things like depth and clarity. At the top, earning A's, were Alabama, California, D.C., Massachusetts and Tennessee. At the bottom, 10 states failed, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and 10 more scored no better than deeds.

JOSE GREGORY: Unfortunately, what I found is that they tended to be broad and vague, not specific enough.

TURNER: Jose Gregory has taught high school U.S. history for nearly 20 years and was one of the reviewers for the report, which comes from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Though Fordham is a conservative-leaning think tank. A handful of experts all told me the result is nonpartisan and worth taking seriously.

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: I'm really worried. I'm really worried.

TURNER: Hasan Kwame Jeffries teaches history at Ohio State.

JEFFRIES: If you don't teach about race and racism in American history, past and present, I don't know what the hell you're teaching. It's not the truth.

TURNER: Jeffries says the fight over critical race theory is essentially about how schools teach about race and racism, and that is deeply informed by what states do and do not include in their U.S. history and civic standards. Since Fordham's last survey in 2011, reviewer Jose Gregory says states' handling of slavery and Jim Crow, as well as early Native American history, has improved, though many state standards are still vague or disjointed.

Read entire article at NPR

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