My department is undergoing a5 year review, and so we are having a meeting to discuss the department’s future in many areas: curriculum, distance education, campus activities, etc. I have always found that while historians research the past and live in the present, they are not great at looking to the future. This is important because, at least at my university, we are facing a shortage of resources in the future and the competition for the remaining resources will be even more fierce. One recent article that a faculty member suggested that my department read is “The Education Our Economy Needs” in the Wall Street Journal on 9/21/11. In it, the writer (Norm Augustine) says that:
- “Now is a time to re-establish history’s importance in American education. We need to take this opportunity to ensure that today’s history teachers are teaching in a more enlightened fashion, going beyond rote memorization and requiring students to conduct original research, develop a viewpoint and defend it.”
Is this possible? Or is it too late?
WSJ targets a Strawman. Good history teachers have always required students “to conduct original research, develop a viewpoint, and defend it.” The generic “liberal-arts-teach-criticial-thinking admonition” is also too vague to mean anything. Teachers of biology, music, even sociology can do the same thing, and the argument can be made that the sciences do this as well or even better than liberal arts.
The august goal is also silly in the context of most universities. The author essentially says “RSM, please go coordinate original research projects with 120 undergrads.” If History is important enough as a discipline to receive part of the very limited funding available, historians should be prepared to identify what unique benefits are imparted by its study. Otherwise, welcome to the Department of History, Geography and Sociology.