Designed by the Stanford History Education Group under Professor Sam Wineburg, the website offers 87 flexible lesson plans featuring documents from the Library of Congress. Teachers can download the lessons and adapt them for their own purposes, free of charge. Students learn how to examine documents critically, just as historians would, in order to answer intriguing questions: Did Pocahontas really rescue John Smith? Was Abraham Lincoln a racist? Who blinked first in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Russians or the Americans?
Apparently the program has struck a chord. In school districts from red states and blue, New York City and Chicago to Carmel, Calif., history teachers are lining up for workshops on how to use the materials. The website's lessons have been downloaded 800,000 times and spawned a lively online community of history educators grateful for the camaraderie—and often desperate for help.
Many would agree that they need it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 30 percent of the people who teach history-related courses in U.S. public high schools both majored in the field and are certified to teach it. Fewer than one quarter of the country's students in grades four, eight and 12 are considered proficient in American history. Only 32 percent of eighth graders who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress could name an advantage American forces had over the British in the Revolutionary War. Just 22 percent of high school seniors knew that U.S. troops were up against Chinese forces in the Korean War.
Read the rest here. With the adoption of Core Standards in each state, using the past to teach reading may be the best hope for keeping history in the curriculum.