Race, Class, and Gender Dominate American History

Back to March 2013 Ed Reporter

Race, Class, and Gender
Dominate American History

The state of Texas has required its public colleges to teach two semesters of American history to their students since 1971. According to a recent study of two universities, course offerings and the texts required for these courses were weighted heavily toward the subjects of Race, Class, and Gender (RCG), to the detriment of other topics. Most history professors were also found to have a strong interest in and to have done their Ph.D.s in RCG areas of study.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Texas Association of Scholars (TAS) examined courses at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and Texas A&M at College Station (A&M) that would fulfill the state’s U.S. history requirement, as well as the texts assigned to undergraduate students who take these classes. This study found a definite emphasis on Race, Class, and Gender at both universities.

Study results are based on “all 85 sections of lower-division American history courses at UT and A&M for the Fall 2010 semester that satisfied the U.S. history requirement.” They also analyzed the assigned readings for each course, as well as the research interests of the 46 professors teaching the courses.

The report says:

Teachers of American history should take race, class, and gender into account and should help students understand those aspects of our history, but those perspectives should not take precedence over all others.

The report goes on to say that students get a “less-than comprehensive picture of U.S. history” when “military, diplomatic, religious, [and] intellectual history” are not taught. The researchers specifically report that special topic courses “seem to exist mainly to allow faculty members to teach their special interests. In those courses and in more general courses, too, faculty members failed to assign many key documents from American history. . . .”

The lack of primary sources is also problematic. Only one professor assigned Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, while none assigned the Mayflower Compact or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

78% of UT faculty and 50% of A&M faculty created syllabi in which over half of course materials focused on race, class and gender issues.

78% of UT faculty and 64% of A&M faculty had special research interest in RCG. The NAS & TAS study found that of UT professors who received their doctorates in the ’90s or later, 83% had RCG research interests, while 67% of their counterparts who received their Ph.D.s in the ’70s or ’80s had RCG research interests.

The numbers at A&M were more extreme: 90% of professors who received Ph.D.s in the ’90s or later had RCG research interests, compared to only 36% of those who received doctorates in the ’70s or ’80s.

The authors stress that although this study involved only two universities, the problems uncovered are by no means unique, but are prevalent, or indeed worse, on other college campuses.

The report offers ten recommendations to correct the shallow teaching of American history, including: review and repair gaps and over-emphases, even if this requires an external review; hire faculty with broader research interests; be certain survey and intro courses are broad, comprehensive reviews; and ensure that courses promote a complete curriculum.

The authors of the report also ask the seemingly impossible, suggesting that “graduate programs in U.S. history should ensure that they do not unduly privilege themes of race, class, and gender” and they also suggest a broad depoliticizing of history. Offering the American story “as a whole” could someday happen, but American college students may wait a long while for that big pendulum to swing.