American colleges don’t teach US history, or so says fox news

Jan 31st, 2014 | By | Category: Lists, Majors, News, Profiles, USA

So Fox news cherry picks from a report by the American Council of Trustees. Fox goes for the sensational headline (and appeal to their conservative base: America’s top liberal arts schools skip U.S. history, report finds. Compare that to other news sources reporting:

The Rport focuses on costs of college and the academic offerings at US News Top 29 Liberal Arts and Sciences Colleges. Specifically, the authors assess how a college does at teaching  7 core acdemic areas:

  • Composition,
  • Literature,
  • intermediate-level Foreign Language,
  • U.S.
  • Government or History,
  • Economics,
  • Mathematics,
  • and Natural or Physical Science.

The authors argue that “Although a strong case can be made for including many other subjects in a core curriculum—and doing so is part of the diversity and vitality of American higher education—a general education that fails to require all, or at least most of these seven subjects will clearly not prepare a graduate for the challenges of career, community, and citizenship.” So on the one hand, the authors clearly believe that liberal arts are needed for the successful entry into the world of work and citizenship (unlike some other groups that see liberal arts as a waste of time), but they narrowly define liberal at fairly conservative. Their key findings?


Of the 29 top-ranked liberal arts colleges:

  • Only two require an economics course.
  • Only three require a survey course in U.S. history. Only five require a survey course in literature.

But is this news? Honestly, they conducted basically the same study back in 2004:


Latzer’s report, “The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum,” graded 50 colleges and universities on how many of the seven subjects the council considered essential to a liberal arts education — writing, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, math, natural or physical science and economics — were actually required. Princeton did lousy, a grade of D. But only two Ivy League colleges, Columbia and Dartmouth, did any better, scraping by with a gentleman’s Cs.

Two schools, Brown and Vassar, never even tried — they say for very good reasons — and got zeroes. Ten schools also earned Fs by requiring only one out of seven subjects: UC-Berkeley, Colgate, Cornell, Iowa State-Ames, Mount Holyoke, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Smith and Wisconsin-Madison. Forty eight percent of the 50 schools got Ds and Fs.

They turned this information into a somewhat useful website called “what will they learn” grading each college on their 7 courses. Twenty-two colleges make the A-list. Like the above, they arrive at the ” The grade is based on a detailed examination of the latest publicly-available online course catalogs at the time of review.” Which is to say, they do not review the course syllabus, nor student surveys.  Bates gets an F at What Will They Learn and is singled out in the report as singles out Bates for some vitrol:

“The unwillingness to establish reasonable core requirements has also corrupted major programs.  At Bates College, for example, there is no general education requirement for American history and there is not even a requirement for history majors to take such a course. Majors must take two courses from either East Asia or Latin America, however. It appears the faculty understands how shoddy these requirements are, since they add the warning on the history department site: “Students considering graduate study in history are advised to undertake some course work in U.S. and modern European history to prepare for the Graduate Record Examination.” Adding to the irony, the history department notes that intermediate-level competency in a foreign language “is a bare minimum for graduate work in history,” but neither the general education requirements nor the departmental requirements embrace foreign language. Sadly, the omission of American history from major requirements is not uncommon—it can be seen at Amherst and at Bowdoin, among other places.”

Who cares that Bates offers over 50 courses in their History departments since they do not require students to actually take a US History Course. So what if most of those to AP US History in high school. What does it matter if they require every student to write a senior thesis? Indeed Bates gates an F on writing in spite of the fact that they hold it central to their make up”

Bates believes that writing and critical thinking are inseparable. That’s why we emphasize the importance of writing as a means of learning across the four years—from the First-Year Seminar to the Senior Thesis.  All Bates graduates will have taken three writing-attentive courses: the W1, W2, and W3.

Moreover, it appears that History students are satisifed with their exepriencess, according to RateMyProfessor. Does it matter that over 10% of students graduate from Bates with a degree in History? Not to the report authors. These things should matter along with the percentage of students heading off to PhD programs. Bates ranks 47th in the country. Bates does this well precisely because their program is rigourous, even if the choice allows kids to miss US History class. To be clear, Bates offers two entry level US History classes and no less than 9 other US centric History courses. If Bates students were to gradaute as History majors, they have to take 10 History courses with five coming from the same five fields: East Asia, Latin America, Europe, the United States, and premodern history. In addition, they must complete not one, but two interdisciplinary concentrations: The list is long. The report makes fun that a student can meet this requirment via a History of Electronic Dance. Yes, that is one of four courses they could take as part of the Music ANd Culture Concentration. They choose from the following:

Bates does not pretend it is a History class–It clearly says MUS, which is short form of Music. The department describes the course as follows: his course explores the development of electronic dance music from its inception in the house and techno subcultures of Chicago and Detroit to its global apotheosis as the soundtrack for rave culture. The enormous popularity of this music challenges some of our most deeply held cultural assumptions, and raises crucial questions about the relationships among music, technology, the body, and culture: How do various subgenres of electronic dance music map out our sense of postindustrial reality? In what ways do the use (and deliberate misuse) of such sound technologies as turntables, digital samplers, drum machines, and musical software challenge traditional notions of musical authorship and authenticity? In what sense do these genres and subcultures present alternative models of sexuality, or different ways of understanding the politics of the body? Enrollment limited to 30.

Limited to 30? You only limit because it is popular. 

In the first year, all students must take a writing intensive seminar. There are plenty. Here is a typical one:

FYS 271. Into the Woods: Rewriting Walden.

On 4 July 1845, Henry David Thoreau declared his independence and moved to a shack in the woods near Walden Pond. Ever since, many individuals have repeated his experiment in one form or another. This course examines a number of these Thoreauvian experiments and their historical context. Why do these individuals take to the woods? What do they find there? What do their experiences say about American culture and society? In seeking answers to these questions, students read a variety of literary, historical, and autobiographical texts. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] G. Lexow.

What else?

Three Writing-Attentive Courses. Students successfully complete three writing-attentive courses, one in their first-year [W1], one taken in the sophomore or junior year at the second level [W2], and one in their senior year at the third level [W3]. First-level courses [W1] are typically first-year seminars. The third-level writing-attentive requirement [W3] is usually fulfilled by completing a senior thesis. When appropriate, writing-attentive courses may also be used to fulfill any other degree requirements at Bates (major, minor, concentrations, scientific reasoning, laboratory experience, or quantitative literacy). All three writing-attentive courses must be taken at Bates.

3. Scientific Reasoning, Laboratory Experience, and Quantitative Literacy. Students successfully complete three distinct courses: 1) one course that requires scientific reasoning [S], which may or may not have a laboratory component; 2) one course that includes a regularly scheduled laboratory component in the laboratory or in the field [L]; 3) one course in quantitative literacy [Q].

And did we mention the Senior Thesis?

Shockingly bad journalism does not further the public discourse on the value of a college education. While some argue that US History is essential to a functioning society (We forget that it is taught, apparently poorly) in Elementary and again in Middle school and finally again in high school. This report is harsh on pronouncements, yet has not subjected itself to the very rigour it is suggesting colleges should be enforcing on the kids. I challenge the very conclusions of the conservative think tanks: “A lack of focus on the core product — a sound, varied education — on the nation’s campuses of higher learning is a key component of the problem, McCluskey said. Too much emphasis is placed on recreational and alternative activities and issues like grade inflation continue to plague colleges large and small.

Bates has an incredibly varied set of requirements and by their results suggest they are equally as sound. Do we need to do this activity for each and every college or should we just cut and paste course titles as a way to justify our headlines?





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