It’s Time to Add a Third Semester of U.S. History

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To the Editor:

I was fascinated by your front-page story "Teachers Tiptoe Into Delicate Topics of 9/11 And Iraq" (Sept. 6, 2006), which describes the ways some social studies teachers approach lessons on 21st-century events.

I began teaching in the mid-1960s, both social studies and math. The typical U.S. history course was allotted one school year; we were expected to cover the Age of Exploration and the Colonial period through the Civil War in the first semester, and then everything that followed, up to the present, in the second. Most teachers were content to get through World War II and the founding of the United Nations in 1945.

My children took Advanced Placement U.S. history in the mid-1980s. I was teaching math at their school and knew their history teacher. He strove to cover the civil rights movement of the 1960s and a hint of the Vietnam War, but that required cutting other topics to accommodate the two-semester course’s time limitations.

Since the 1960s, we have had 40 years of crucial historical events to teach our schoolchildren. Yet we continue squeezing the entire course into the same two semesters we did half a century ago. There is no way to do that properly; something must be sacrificed.

Thus, my amazement over social studies teachers’ covering the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq at the start of the school year. Some courses were electives, like the World Crises class you featured. Others have a “current events” component to allow for timely topics. But my real concern is for students nationwide who take the standard, one-year U.S. history course in high school. How can we do justice to our ever-lengthening history within time constraints that barely sufficed half a century ago? Isn’t it time to add a third semester?

Betty Raskoff Kazmin
Medford, Ore.

Vol. 26, Issue 7, Page 36

Published in Print: October 11, 2006, as It’s Time to Add a Third Semester of U.S. History
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