Historian McCullough Wants to Change History Education; Teachers Need Better Training, He Says, and Parents Need to Be More Involved

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Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

For the past quarter century, America has been raising a generation of historically illiterate children, according to historian and best-selling author David McCullough.

But, emphasized the author of 1776, John Adams, Truman and other works, the problem is curable.

"We have to change how we educate our children," said McCullough, who was in Jacksonville on Tuesday to speak at the Florida Forum, the lecture series that is a fundraiser for Wolfson Children's Hospital.

The grandfatherly looking McCullough (he has 17 grandchildren of his own) lamented that teachers today earn degrees in education but not in the subjects they teach.

"The best teachers love their subject, but you can't love something you don't know," McCullough said in an interview with the Times-Union. Young teachers depend on textbooks to learn the subjects they are teaching, he said, but most of the books are "terrible."

"You learn to teach by teaching," he said. "Teachers would be best prepared by earning a good, old-fashioned liberal arts degree with requirements for history and a foreign language."

But teachers, whom he called "the most important people in our society," aren't the only solution to the problem of historically illiterate children. That's where parents and grandparents come in.

Reinstate the dinner table conversation, McCullough said, and talk about history and how things were in the old days when Grandpa was young. Take the kids to historic places.

"Concentrate on grade-school children and tell them stories from history," he said. "Little minds are like sponges."

Children will be attracted to history if they see their parents enjoying it, he added. As to excuses from families who force-feed children sports that they don't have time to talk about history, he said: "That's bunk. The average family spends 2 to 4 hours a day watching TV."

As McCullough has proven in his popular books, history doesn't have to be as "deadly boring" as some teachers make it. …