Ironically, while Eastern Europe is looking to the United States as a model democratic government, reports indicate that America's young people lack the requirements of an involved electorate--knowledge of history and democracy (Ravitch & Finn, 1987). The results of the first National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of history (Ravitch & Finn, 1987) indicated that the current generation of young Americans is "at risk of being gravely handicapped" by their lack of history knowledge. Twenty percent of the 17-year-olds tested by the NAEP in history did not know that George Washington was commander of the American army during the Revolutionary War. Forty percent did not understand the system of "checks and balances" among the branches of government. Less than one third knew that American foreign policy following World War I was isolationist, who Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinera are, or to what "reconstruction" refers.
Given the poor performance of general education students, the prognosis for the history performance of students with mild learning and behavior disabilities is frightening to contemplate. Unfortunately, there is limited information regarding the actual performance of students with disabilities in history or social studies. However, available data appear to indicate that few resource room teachers include history instruction, and many teachers in full-day programs do not teach history or social studies (Patton, Polloway, & Cronin, 1987). One might surmise that history instruction is taking place in general education settings; however, as part of a study of students with behavior disorders who were integrated for part of the school day, Foley (1989) found that only 5% of 120 middle and junior high school students were placed in mainstream history or social studies classes. In many cases, students with behavior disorders may be receiving no history instruction whatsoever.
Teachers (Patton et al., 1987) and curriculum analysts (Brophy, 1990; Carnine, 1991) agree that poor materials--curriculum that is not designed to teach all students--hinder social studies and history instruction for all students, including those with mild disabilities. Recently, history textbooks, the predominant instructional tool (Armento, 1986), have been criticized as superficial and found to trivialize the content of history (Crabtree, 1989). Frequently, major concepts are not made clear (White, 1988) because the texts provide a brief mention of everything but little analysis (Tyson & Woodward, 1989; Zakaria, 1988). History and social studies textbooks have been criticized particularly for their lack of coherence and depth of coverage (Beck & McKeown, 1991). Beck, McKeown, and Gromoll (1989) concluded their in-depth evaluation of four fifth-grade history texts by stating that texts present facts, rather than presenting information in a manner that facilitates the organization of facts into a coherent whole.
Brophy (1990), in his recent comprehensive review of elementary social studies teaching, found a similar emphasis on learning isolated facts at the expense of the "meaningful understanding of coherent networks of information" (p. 369). Although history and social studies instructional approaches may differ in the nature of their delivery (e.g., teacher or student centered), they differ little in expectations and demands on students; in practice, these approaches tend to stress lower levels of learning, such as recalling facts (Kaltsounis, 1987; Voss, 1986), and ignore the importance of the organization of content and the relationship or linkage of information. Thus, regardless of the approach, students are left to organize and reorganize information into networks or linkages of knowledge themselves. This is occurring despite findings that curriculum organized to demonstrate the linkage of knowledge can facilitate learning (Engelmann & Carnine, 1982; Prawat, 1989).
In summary, the NAEP results demonstrated that mainstream high school students are lacking basic knowledge required of an informed citizen in a democracy; and other research in special education has indicated that few students with mild disabilities receive history instruction in either mainstream or special education settings (Patton et al. …