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Teaching Resources--ebooks that extend learning, study guides, and perhaps best of all kudos to some super teachers

Oxford University Press Teacher and Study Guides for A History of US

These multidisciplinary books are intended to encourage reading and writing as they teach subject matter.
But how to teach with narrative history books? To begin: read the stories and enjoy.
With A History of US you have a choice of workbooks: from professionals at Oxford University Press (led by Susan Buckley) and/or from educator teams at Johns Hopkins University (led by Maria Garriott). Teacher created lesson plans can be found on the web. One of the best, by Texas Teacher of the Year Barbara Dorff, is below.

I hope you'll turn your students into historians. That means asking them to choose a subject or person from the book you're reading, do some research (easy on today's web), and then write something: a paper, a newspaper or journal, a play (with a cast of characters from history).

See these sample chapters from the Teacher's Guide and Student's Study Guide for Book 3: From Colonies to Country (1735-1791)
(A History of US)

These study guides are academic resources intended to be used in conjunction with classroom work and reading assignments, they aid in mastering material and increase comprehension.

A History of US is most often read in 5th and 8th grades (because of state curriculum requirements). The Oxford study guides are often chosen by 5th grade teachers and the Johns Hopkins materials by 8th grade. But this can vary.

This "at a glance" chart outlines the availability of A History of US study guides and which books in the series they represent.

A History of US Ordering flier (1.2 MB)

Download this flier detailing available teacher and younger reader guides along with their respective ISBN numbers or go to the Ordering/Contact tab to find out how to order these Guides.


Johns Hopkins University Teaching Guides

Engaging lessons accompany specific volumes in Joy Hakim's books, A History of Us
To order JOHNS HOPKINS TEACHING MATERIALS for A History of Us, go to and enter the title of the A History of Us volume you are working with and either “Teaching Guide” or “Resource Book.” You will need both for a complete curriculum. For example, type “Liberty for All Teaching Guide” or “Liberty for All Resource Book.” This will result in multiple versions of teaching materials, so make sure you order the Johns Hopkins materials (blue cover).The books list for $40 and $35 respectively, so your total cost should be $75.

For a sample lesson or ordering information, please contact: Myriam Maouyo at 410-516-4339 or

See the Ordering/Contact Tab for charts of the available guides, ISBN numbers and more ordering information.

Order the Johns Hopkins teaching materials here.

Liberty for All? Resource Book by Susan Dangel et al.

The Johns Hopkins University Talent Development Secondary program has created outstanding teaching materials for each book in Joy Hakim’s award-winning A History of US series. A Teaching Guide for each volume includes twenty-five lessons and five review lessons. Each lesson includes background information for the teacher; focus activities; strategies for interactive teaching and cooperative learning; writing activities; homework assignments; and interdisciplinary extension activities. Each Teaching Guide’s accompanying Resource Book includes duplication masters for transparencies; review game cards and answer sheets; assessments; and student sheets and team sheets for all activities. The curriculum makes extensive use of primary source documents. “The coordinated teaching and learning materials from Johns Hopkins are just plain wonderful. I feel mighty lucky to have them reinforce and extend my books.” Joy Hakim


Imagine if every teacher assigned some daily writing.
Writing Demands Thinking and That's What all our students Need to Do Well

As a classroom teacher I had my students do daily writing. They self-published books (in a day when that meant using a Xerox machine). We gave the small books ISBN numbers and put them in the school library. ("We" acknowledges that I had help. Parents--the right ones--can be wonderful helpers.) One year another teacher and I collaborated, we had our 5th grade students do a literary journal based on their research. Today, if I were teaching with A History of US or the Story of Science I'd try to have my students do daily writing that involved research (the web makes it easily available) and ask them to turn their research into nonfiction narratives, or poems, or fictional journals. In other words, I'd have them compose stories drawn from the truth.

If you assign daily writing, who will read it and comment? Lots of ways to handle this. One way: have a daily scheduled writing time. As students write the teacher can have them come one by one to his/her desk for critiques. It may take all week to check each student's notebook, but a one on one critique is worth it. Suggestion from a writer: be open to innovative writing and a variety of points of view.

History, a Story Well Told by Diane L. Brooks, Oxford University Press

Diane Brooks is California's much respected former social studies chief. In this document, available in pdf format by clicking on the hyperlink below, you can see how she links the history books to state standards. But she does far more than that. This is a valuable document for teachers and other educators who want insights on teaching American history from an expert. If you're involved in setting state standards you will want to read this.

A correlation of A History of US with the current NORTH CAROLINA standards is available.

Lesson Plans, Teaching Guides and Study Guides - The Story of Science

I'll Take Manhattan, U.S. History lesson plan written by master teachers Barbara Dorfff and Tamala Grikpingo

Adapted from A History of US, Book Two: Making Thirteen Colonies

I'll Take Manhattan: A History of US Book Two, Making Thirteen Colonies Lesson Plan (418 KB)

Lesson Plan by Barbara Dorfff and Tamala Grikpingo

NSTA Teaching Materials for Einstein Adds A New Dimension


The science workbooks done at Johns Hopkins are special. I especially love the illustrations by Erin Pryor Gill, who not only is a terrific artist, he has a great sense of humor. Teaching materials for "Einstein Adds A New Dimension" at NSTA by President Emerita Juliana Texley. How do you each quantum theory in a classroom Texley manages it brilliantly. When you coordinate stories with hands on science you have a tale to remember that helps give meaning and purpose to lab work.

The Story of Science sample NSTA lesson plans

Einstein Adds a New Dimension brings to life the history of Albert Einstein and his fellow scientists as they lay the groundwork for concepts of particle physics and quantum mechanics.

Juliana Texley's wonderful teaching guide, The Story of Science Classroom Companion: Einstein Adds a New Dimension, adds teacher and student materials to Einstein Adds a New Dimension.

A podcast interview with Juliana Texley, conducted by Tyson Brown, Director, New Products and Services, NSTA can be accessed directly by clicking on the following link: NSTA Podcast of Interview With Juliana Texley

To access this podcast, as well as other conversations with authors, through the NSTA website, click here: NSTA Publications: Behind the Books

This teaching guide for Einstein Adds A New Dimension, is in ebook format and can be ordered from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Learning Center website. It is free for NSTA members and $9.95 for others.

Juliana Texley

Joy Hakim’s Einstein Adds a New Dimension is a rare outstanding science trade book that pairs a gripping narrative style with informative sidebars; hundreds of charts, maps, and diagrams; suggestions for further reading; and excerpts from the writings of great scientists. But how can teachers maximize its potential for classroom use?

Juliana Texley approaches Hakim’s book with the savvy of a K–12 science teacher with 25 years of classroom experience and offers educators supplementary materials to help seamlessly blend use of Einstein Adds a New Dimension with existing curricula. She even provides student activity pages.

The teacher and student materials found here are samples of what is available for Einstein Adds a New Dimension in its entirety. Below you will find links to

Chapter 24, “The Fission Vision”
Corresponding teacher materials and student activity pages
A note from Joy Hakim
An explanation, from Juliana Texley, of how to use these resources
These materials are offered free when you purchase Einstein Adds a New Dimension from NSTA Press®, otherwise there is a $9.95 charge.

Taken from

Johns Hopkins University Teaching Guides for The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way and Newton at the Center

Teacher's and Student's Quest Guide: Aristotle Leads the Way (The Story of Science)

This rich, multidisciplinary curriculum to accompany Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way covers astronomy, physics, and chemistry from Mesopotamia to the Middle Ages. The course of study is divided into five units. Each unit includes an introduction (with background information, a materials list, and standards correlated to the narrative and teaching materials) and nine class sessions. The Teacher’s Quest Guide includes embedded reading strategies to facilitate greater comprehension, hands-on science experiments to encourage learning by discovery, timeline activities, and several review and assessment activities for each unit. Students will enjoy a time-traveling cartoon character, Professor Quest, who summarizes the main point of each lesson. Multiple cross-curricular links suggest additional activities in math, language arts, history, art, and other subjects to extend learning.

The accompanying Student's Quest Guide includes all necessary student worksheets. This curriculum is ideal for traditional science classes, enrichment programs, and home-school settings.

Teacher's and Student's Quest Guide: Newton at the Center (The Story of Science)

This rich, multidisciplinary curriculum to accompany Joy Hakim’s Newton at the Center covers astronomy, physics, and chemistry from Copernicus to the Curies, from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. The course of study is divided into seven units. Each unit includes an introduction (with background, materials list, and standards) and nine class sessions. The Teacher’s Quest Guide includes embedded reading strategies to facilitate greater comprehension; hands-on science experiments to encourage learning by discovery; timeline activities; several review and assessment activities for each unit; and even a time-traveling cartoon character, Professor Quest, to summarize the main point of the lessons. Multiple cross-curricular links suggest additional activities in language arts, history, art, and other subjects to extend learning.

The accompanying Student's Quest Guide includes all necessary student sheets. This curriculum is ideal for traditional physical science classes, enrichment programs, and home-school settings.

Freedom: A History of US

PBS created a TV series (with celebrity voiceovers) and an accompanying program for teachers based on A History of US.
Go to the PBS Freedom Teaching Website where you can view free Webisodes, read historical primers, browse teaching guides, and more.
To buy the DVD's, go to the PBS Teacher Shop


The gorgeous book, intended for classroom use and at home reading, is available from Social Studies School Services.

Freedom: A History of US and its incredible teaching resources

This is a readable one-volume U.S. history especially appropriate in middle and high school classes. Read the book, then explore a webisode at and see why the promise of freedom has attracted millions of people to America. It is a story facing challenges today that can stimulate student research and inquiry.

To view all 16 webisodes of the terrific teacher/student website Freedom: A History of Us, please visit

After watching the sixteen video Webisodes, CHECK OUT these games. You can have fun with the games and at the same time quiz yourself (or your students) on what you've learned:

The Freedom: A History of US soundtrack

"Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings mined their rich archive of American recordings to prepare a unique, collectible boxed set that is the musical counterpart to PBS' chronicle of the struggle for freedom in our country. The 3-CD set Freedom: Songs From The Heart of America, along with a single-CD best-of collection, are part of a multi-media set of products inspired by the History of US book series by award-winning author Joy Hakim. Oxford University Press released Freedom: A History of US, a companion book to the PBS series; and PBS Home Video released the Freedom, television series on DVD and VHS." - Black Voice News

Ebook: "Reading Science Stories," uses Science and its stories as a way to Teach Critical Thinking

All my books are intended as a way to get readers to think critically. The best way to do that? Get your students to write--every day if possible. Use the story format as a model for students to research, organize what they find into a narrative (fancy word for story), and write it out. Have them ask questions about what they've written and then answer their own questions. Do some more research (the web makes it easy). Rewrite. And again.

This book has compelling stories that are fun, easy to read and made for discussion.

FREE TO BELIEVE (OR NOT) A book with original documents and stories of religious freedom in America

This paperback book is intended as a way to teach original documents, which are often tough reading. But sometimes they are important. Here's a chance to read and teach them in context.

The Importance of Classroom Materials

A report from Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, called Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core, by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, states:

"Students learn principally through interactions with people (teachers and peers) and instructional materials (textbooks, workbooks, instructional software, web-based content, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests). But education policymakers focus primarily on factors removed from those interactions, such as academic standards, teacher evaluation systems, and school accountability policies. It’s as if the medical profession worried about the administration of hospitals and patient insurance but paid no attention to the treatments that doctors give their patients.

There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. But whereas improving teacher quality through changes in the preparation and professional development of teachers and the human resources policies surrounding their employment is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making better choices among available instructional materials should be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick."

For the complete report issued in April 2012, visit BROOKINGS Brown Center on Education Policy

The Importance of Exemplary Teachers

Wherever I go I meet superb teachers, I see them as national treasures. I'd like to celebrate them on this website

Mabel Morrill, who was my English teacher for two years at Rutland High School in Rutland, Vermont, changed my life and that of most of her students. She was tough, hardly anyone loved her, she wasn’t a loveable kind of person, but we all knew she was special and that she was not only teaching us to write, but to think well too. When I got my first book contract (with OUP) I sent a thank you note to Mrs. Morrill.

So I’m very aware of the power of good teaching. And, given what I now do, I know some wonderful teachers. I also know of terrific schools where there’s a culture of excellence along with the palpable excitement that comes when you know you are making a difference. Recently I spent time with a group of NCTE teachers. I was awed.

Great teachers, great principals, great librarians and others who devote themselves to teaching in its many forms are national treasures. Here are a few of my heroes. I’d be delighted to hear about others.


Maine educator Nancie Atwell teaches reading by letting students pick their own books (from well-stocked classroom libraries), then she sets up a time and place (she calls it a “reading zone”) where, every day, they immerse themselves. Simple idea? Yes, but mostly we don’t do that. We teach children how to read, we burden them with strategies, we give them tests and more tests, but letting them just read (and then write about their reading)? We don’t do that very often. Atwell won a million dollar award for her results. Her book, "In The Middle" is filled with specifics.



Picture with Barbara Dorff at the White House.

Barbara Dorff was a middle-school classroom teacher when her supervisor challenged her with a class of non-readers. Some were ESL students, others just couldn’t read. She decided that instead of a conventional reader, she would teach them to read by using high interest stories. (Yes, A History of US.) She did upfront preparations. Then she had the students read with a goal in mind. She tested them for comprehension and gave them their scores. She got her students to read the text again, this time with a different goal. She tested them again and let them compare their scores. She did this four times. they learned that non-fiction often demands multiple readings. Dorff's students finished the year with test scores that soared 10 percent and higher. She was named Texas Teacher of the Year.

Recently she has been working with a school in El Paso which serves students in a low socio economic neighborhood. Barbara says "it is an amazing place. 60% of the students come across the border (stand in line an hour and a half each way) on scholarships. The teachers have responded beautifully...the graduation rate is 98% and every single student gets a college scholarship.

"Also, this year I have dedicated my time to starting a literacy program for elementary children that uses college-age interns to teach and inspire. It's going very well! We have 24 interns, 200 children and lots of excitement."

Barbara's husband, Jim, is a Methodist bishop recently retired.

Barbara Allen is one of National History Day’s heroes. And if you don’t know about NHD, look it up. Thousands of school children participate, writing, performing and doing original projects that often are the product of research that takes most of the school year. Again and again, Allen’s students have been prizewinners. Recently retired from the Denver Public Schools she is now leading an initiative to open a history-centered middle school that will also include STEAM subjects (science and the arts) along with debate and NHD participation. Allen is pictured above with Jon Schockness, one of her NHD prizewinners.

Currently Barbara is leading an effort to open a history-centered school in Denver that will include a STEAM (science and the arts) curriculum and a focus on debate and history day research projects.


Christopher Naze, at Capitol Hill Elementary in Portland, OR, is doing something incredibly important: he is teaching children to think critically and write eloquently. Every year I look forward to getting a manila envelope with letters from his students. They not only write well, they think well. And, of course, the two go together.


Year after year Edward Bassett’s high school biology students ace their standardized tests in a state (Washington) where that doesn’t happen often. What’s his secret? He doesn’t teach to the test, rather he has high expectations and he makes biology an exciting challenging subject. I know that first-hand because Bassett is my go-to biologist whenever I need clarity on an issue. This year’s students, calling themselves “future scientists" wrote him a joint note. Here it is: “Mr. Bassett, you are at the same time inspiring and incredibly good natured and humorous. We have learned from you and with you, and you can always make life and death interesting. We are honored to be taught by you.” Ed tells me he lives in a city, Olympia, where many parents are highly educated and that makes a big difference.
He says that many of his colleagues in other environments work hard and achieve good results if not top scores. All true, but incredibly dedicated teachers like Ed Bassett provide a benchmark.


Sixth grade teacher James Bentley is one of those national treasures. Here’s a story from his classroom: District authorities turned down a request from Foulks Ranch School, in Elk Grove, CA, for a running track (new schools had tracks to promote student fitness). Bentley, working with Project Citizen (a civics education initiative) guided his students when they decided to take on what they saw as an unfair distribution of school funds. That meant researching health issues, studying school budgets and district funding, and articulating their case before legislators. The quick story: initially the students were turned down, but they didn’t give up. They not only got a running track for their school, but also for 17 other old elementary schools that didn’t have one.

Since then Jim Bentley has found a new teaching passion: filmmaking. To produce a film students need to research and gather information, write a script, and delve into artistic and technical worlds. Besides all that, it's fun. Click below to see Bentley's classroom and its very impressive film-making.


Master teacher Chad Pavlekovich, who is known as the Jedi Teacher in Salisbury, Maryland, leads an amazing middle school science-oriented (STEM) program that has been ranked as one of the top ten in the nation: "We are finishing year two of our STEM academy, which has been a great success in both the county and the state. At the beginning of this coming school year there will be three STEM academies in our county, each school is using your Story of Science books based on my experiences and methods of using them in the program. Our academy (Salisbury Middle) will be using your history series as well with our students this coming fall. On a personal note, I was selected as our county's teacher of the year and am now in competition with the 23 other TOYs from the state for that title, which will be decided in October. If you go to our school website or Google me you should find the articles and pictures. It's good for me, but I think the messages that I am conveying about the importance of science and 21st century skills that our students need to master is what is really important."

Hooray for Chad, who deserves the acclaim. Check out ‪STEM Program:FETC awards STEM @ Salisbury Middle School‬ for details. In the picture, he is on a field trip to the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Story of Science meets all the Maryland standards requirements for middle school science.


My "inner child" loves The Story of Science!

Joanne Manaster (known on YouTube as The Science Goddess), a lecturer at the School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois, talks about her favorite science books.

Here are some letters from teachers, homeschoolers and students:

"I interrupt the tedious work of averaging grades today to share with you something very exciting. You will find along with my note some letters from students in one of my eighth grade social studies classes [about the series: A History of Us]... One day this past week when they had completed another of many classes devoted to the role play based on a chapter in 'From Colonies to Country' I asked them if their lively, good work was due to their talents or to your book. They all said it was because of your book, and they decided on their own to write you thank you letters. I have never in thirty years of teaching seen that happen. I hope you find their letters gratifying. The ideas expressed are strictly their own and spontaneous."

-Margaret Ford, 8th grade teacher


"I discovered your books [A History of Us] while engaged in one of my 'time off' rituals in a bookstore almost two years ago. I remember sitting on the floor cross-legged in the history section thinking I struck gold... I approached my principal and indicated I would like the three fifth-grade classes to use [A History of Us] to supplement our textbook... From that conversation along with some 'creative financing' we purchased eighteen copies... The other two fifth-grade teachers also enthusiastically embraced the books and we proceeded to purchase eighteen more of each volume. Consequently, our 'Hakim' books (as we always refer to them) now have reversed roles with our Houghton Mifflin textbook."

-Fifth-grade teacher Donna Kasprowicz


"Thank you for the time you spent writing compelling chapters and notes…you have created a rich landscape for learning and discussion. As Daniel read the final chapter we stopped many times with shivers, soaking in the significance of the Civil War’s end and President Lincoln’s life and death."

-Tina Watson, Homeschool teacher (May 9 2014)


"I love the way your writing style puts important information into more of a story. I love all of the side notes and “extra” stories you include. The values you seem to express through your writing are exactly what I want my children to learn. I don’t feel like I have to re-teach everything they have learned to insert the values we are trying to instill in our children. Thank you for giving my children a fun way to learn facts that are so important to all Americans. "

-Melissa Cozza Cleveland (3/14/14) via facebook


"Our homeschool group in Frankfort, KY has just completed your series through the Civil War and I wanted to write to thank you for making fair minded value judgments and using primary source material to make history come alive. All of us have learned so much: Thank You!"

-Chris Schimmoeller (


"Thank you so much for your powerful, compassionate, and thought-provoking writing.  I am so moved by all of your books."

-Marilyn McGinnis (Marilynn


"…a beautiful job of showing (the Civil War) from all angles. It wasn’t some idealist fight…(you) really showed in your writing the diversity of morals throughout the people of the North and South."

-Daniel Watson (age 14)


"You have added a very personal touch to the writing and the stories are very captivating and help us all to remember the facts much better."

-Enrico Contolini

Joy Shares Some Favorite Books:

One of these days I intend to do an orderly book site in which I divide books into categories before telling you something about them. This isn’t it. Rather it’s a disorganized list of books that have made a difference to me as a writer, as a teacher, and as a student of history and science.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White tops most writer’s lists. Strunk was a professor at Cornell; White was his student. Strunk came up with a no nonsense student guide to good writing, White, who went on to fame as a “New Yorker” writer and the author of Charlotte’s Web, turned his professor’s notes into a classic of writing advice. I’ve read it many times and never tire of it.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well. A newspaperman who taught writing at Yale, Zinsser is another writing guru and this is another wonderful, sensible, concise book.

Steven King, On Writing. Most of King’s books scare me, this one is a personal story and quite wonderful.

Ruth Sawyer, The Way of the Storyteller. This classic focuses on oral storytelling. It is of special interest to librarians, teachers, and anyone who wants to weave a storytelling spell.

Worlds of Childhood; The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, edited by William Zinsser. This is an anthology and I don’t usually like anthologies. But this one includes essays by some of the best modern writers for children talking about how and why they do what they do. They include: Jean Fritz, Maurice Sendak, Jill Krementz, Jack Prelutsky, Rosemary Wells, and Katherine Patterson. My copy of this anthology is stamped, “The Mother Irene Library, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Denver, Colorado.” Mother Irene helped found that school. I met her near the end of her life and learned that she, like me, grew up in Rutland, Vermont. And, without knowing me, she had chosen A History of US as the history/reader for her school. We had lots to talk about.

Kieran Egan, Imagination in Teaching and Learning: The Middle School Years. I’ve read all of Egan’s books and recommend them highly. This is a favorite. Egan helped me understand the huge changes that happen between third-grade and ninth-grade and how to deal with them (with imagination, not rote teaching).

Jean Fritz, who mostly writes stories of American history, was an inspiration when I began writing for young readers. Her books, all written with wit and grace, are intended for elementary and middle school readers, but can be enjoyed by anyone at any age. Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution is one of them.

Genevieve Foster was born in 1893, so her narrative history books are not new, but I don’t find them dated, and most are available. I recommend all of them highly. Here are three titles: George Washington’s World, Augustus Caesar’s World, The World of Captain John Smith.

In the 1940s Lillian Lieber used what I think of as poetry to write books about math and physics that are both witty and informative. Barry Mazur, a Harvard professor has updated many of her books. She said this of her writing style:

“This is not intended to be
free verse.
Writing each phrase on a separate line
facilitates rapid reading,
and everyone
is in a hurry

My son, Jeff, now a math professor, loved Lieber’s books when he was a young boy. Jeff's friend, Richard Evan Schwartz, also a math professor, is the author and illustrator of two charming books on math. One of them titled, Really Big Numbers, will help you deal with the googolplex world.

Like most writers, I live in a space wallpapered with books. So I’m very aware that we have some marvelous writers explaining and describing science and history in narratives for the general reader. Many of them write adult trade books that can be read by middle and high school students. Young readers may miss nuances, but as long as they keep reading I believe we should encourage them. I often read books that are above my head; I don’t worry if I miss some content. Eventually those thoughts begin to make sense.

Nancie Atwell understands the power of reading and explains it well in these two books. She's the deserving winner of a million dollar teacher award.

*The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, by Nancie Atwell (2007)

*In the Middle, Third Edition: A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents, by Nancie Atwell (Third Edition, 2014)

Here is one example of the fine books on the natural world being written today: *Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea, by Sy Montgomery (2006) - Sy Montgomery is one of several very good writers tackling today's science. Ask your librarian for help finding other page turners.

Common Core logo
If you have a magnifying glass you can see A History of US with some fancy company in this Common Core logo.

Our reading problems don't seem to go away. Here are words from an article in The Atlantic Monthly, back in November 1991; since then a whole industry has been built on attempts to raise those scores. Much of it is gimmickry and many have profited.

Daniel J. Singal, “The Other Crisis in American Education”

...Finally, no account of the present condition of college students would be complete without mention of the extraordinary dearth of factual knowledge they bring to college….

…The second crisis, in contrast, is far more academic than social and to a surprising extent invisible. It involves approximately half the country’s student population—the group that educators refer to as “college-bound.” Although the overwhelming majority of these students attend suburban schools, a fair number can be found in big-city or consolidated rural districts, or in independent or parochial schools. Beginning in the mid-1970s these students have been entering college so badly prepared that they have performed far below potential, often to the point of functional disability. We tend to assume that with their high aptitude for learning, they should be able to fend for themselves. However, the experience of the past fifteen years has proved decisively that they can’t….

In effect, the test numbers substantiate what the National Commission on Excellence in Education concluded—quoting the education analyst Paul Copperman—in 1983 in A Nation at Risk: “Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.”…

While students in the bottom quartile have shown slow but steady improvement since the 1960s, average test scores have nonetheless gone down, primarily because of the performance of those in the top quartile. This “highest cohort of achievers,” Rudman writes, has shown “the greatest decline across a variety of subjects as well as across age-level groups.” ...

The news is not encouraging. In 1972, of the high school seniors taking the SAT 11.4 percent had verbal scores over 600; by 1983 the number had dropped to 6.9 percent, and despite modest gains in the mid-1980s, it remains in that disheartening vicinity. That’s a decline of nearly 40 percent….

But do these numbers matter? Does a loss of sixty points on the verbal SAT translate into a significant difference in a student’s educational experience at college? The testimony of those who teach at the college level suggests that the answer is yes. When a national poll in 1989 asked professors whether they thought undergraduates were “seriously underprepared in basic skills,” 75 percent said yes and only 15 percent said no….

Take reading, for example. “While the nation’s students have the skills to derive a surface understanding of what they read,” the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] recently reported, “they have difficulty when asked to defend or elaborate upon this surface understanding.”…

David Samson, a former lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, likewise observes, “No one reads for nuance. They pay no attention to detail.”…

Equally distressing is the rate at which today’s students read. A friend of mine at the University of Michigan remembers that in the 1960s the normal assignment in his course was one book a week. Now he allows two to three weeks for each title. .. Twelve to fifteen books over a fifteen-week semester used to be the rule of thumb at selective colleges. Today it is six to eight books, and they had better be short texts, written in relatively simple English.

As one might expect, students who don’t read at an advanced level can’t write well either. Their knowledge of grammar is not bad, according to Richard Marius, the director of the expository writing program at Harvard, but “the number of words available to express their thoughts is very, very limited, and the forms by which they express themselves are also very limited.”...
Along with this impoverishment of language comes a downturn in reasoning skills. Da Costa [at Yale] laments that students are no longer trained in logical analysis, and consequently have difficulty using evidence to reach a conclusion. ... “They are always ready to tell you how they feel about an issue, but they have never learned how to construct a rational argument to defend their opinions.” Again, these complaints are amply substantiated by data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. ..

Finally, no account of the present condition of college students would be complete without mention of the extraordinary dearth of factual knowledge they bring to college….

Indeed, one can’t assume that college students know anything anymore. Paula Fass, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, remains astonished that sophomores and juniors in her upper-level course on American social history are often unable to differentiate between the American Revolution and the Civil War, but rather see them as two big events that happened way back in the past. Alan Heimert, a veteran member of the Harvard English department, encounters the same mushy grasp of historical knowledge and blames it on the “trendy social-studies curriculum” now taught in most high schools which covers broad thematic topics rather than history. “They are aware that someone oppressed someone else,” he says with only slight exaggeration, “but they aren’t sure exactly what took place and they have no idea of the order in which it happened.”

Though not always recognized, a direct connection exists between this deficit in factual knowledge and the decline in verbal skills….

Year-long survey courses in history and literature, covering the United States, Europe, and the world, were designed to ensure that college-bound students would have the necessary background to make sense of the new subject matter they would encounter in college. Yet few high schools today teach that kind of curriculum.

Little wonder that so many students experience great difficulty in absorbing detail; since they have no context in which to fit what they read,...

Those who attribute the loss of academic performance to social factors don’t take account of the small number of high schools around the country that have managed to escape the downturn…. main characteristic that successful schools have shared—the fact that academics must invariably receive priority over every other activity. “The difference comes,” we are told, “from a singular commitment to academic achievement for the college-bound student.” These schools did not ignore the other dimensions of student life…But academic work came first.

Two other factors help account for the prowess of these schools in holding the line against deterioration. The first is a dogged reliance on a traditional liberal-arts curriculum…fundamentals such as English grammar and vocabulary received heavy stress. The other key factor in preserving academic quality was the practice of grouping students by ability in as many subjects as possible.…

If attaining educational excellence is this simple, why have these high-quality schools become so rare? The answer lies in the cultural ferment of the 1960s.

In every conceivable fashion the reigning ethos of those times was hostile to excellence in education. Individual achievement fell under intense suspicion, as did attempts to maintain standards.…

The populist tidal wave receded by the late 1970s, but the mediocrity it left in its wake remains.…English and history now lie in ruins in all too many schools. The latter, of course, are the disciplines primarily responsible for inculcating verbal skills and for supplying the broad framework of knowledge that students need for success in college. Yet it is precisely in these areas that the spirit of the sixties remains most evident, hovering over the high schools and junior highs like a ghost.

Consider the teaching of English. The Great Books, of course, are out of fashion. A few get assigned as a token gesture, but are rarely set in chronological order.…Instead, students are all too often given works that, as the English department at one highly ranked independent school puts it, are “age-appropriate” and “reflect [a] concern with social pluralism.” ...

Nor are they asked to read much. Most ninth- and tenth-grade English reading lists are limited to four or five titles a year.…

As for writing, when it is assigned (there seems to be wide variation among schools on this), it tends to take the form of “personal expression”—with assignments calling for first-person narratives that describe what the student has seen, felt, or experienced. Essays in which the writer marshals evidence to support a coherent, logical argument are too rare. Since that kind of exercise might dampen creativity, it must be minimized. The outcome is utterly predictable. “Analytic writing was difficult for students in all grades,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress noted in summarizing the results of its various writing tests in 1984, while students “had less difficulty with tasks requiring short responses based on personal experience.”…

The same tendency appears in other key subjects. Students headed for college used to get a solid grasp of both American and European history at the high school level. Now, as most people are aware, they pass through an array of social-studies courses designed to impress upon them the central values of the sixties, including concern for the natural environment, respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups, and women’s rights.… Above all, this spotty social-studies approach deprives students of that vital base of in-depth knowledge they must have to succeed as undergraduates.…

Perhaps most crucial, the sixties mentality, with its strong animus against what it defines as “elitism,” has shifted the locus of concern in American education from high to low achievers. All over the country, educators today typically judge themselves by how well they can reach the least-able student in the system, the slowest one in the class. Programs to help the culturally disadvantaged have proliferated, while those for the gifted receive no more than token interest...

Here it is necessary to be precise: the problem is not the pursuit of equality as such but the bias against the pursuit of excellence that has accompanied it.…we must make clear to teachers and administrators that their mandate had been revised—that we want to move toward social equality and academic excellence.…

The other crisis in American education has ominous implications for the well-being of our political system. According to a recent study by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, titled “The Age of Indifference,” young Americans aged eighteen to twenty-nine are remarkably uninformed. They do read, the survey found, but primarily lightweight publications like People rather than serious newspapers or periodicals.…The “limited appetites and aptitudes” of this generation, the Times Mirror Center concluded, are already adversely affecting “the practice of politics and the nature of democracy.”

..As the United Negro College Fund aptly puts it, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. It’s time to recognize that we have been wasting far too many good ones.