A while ago, a student came to see me after she had badly bombed a midterm. Her goal in life is to be an on-air TV personality. Though she is a senior, it was clear that she didn’t really know how to study or take notes, and read only when forced to.
This was a course in the history of journalism, and one of her major mistakes was claiming that the African-American press tried in the 1930’s to turn people against slavery.
Slavery had then been abolished for 70 years. I asked if she knew that the Civil War had led to the end of slavery. She did not, and asked me when the Civil War was.
I said that if I told her, she would forget, and that she needed to look it up and then report back. She thought that was reasonable, and then paused. “What countries were involved in the Civil War? I mean, I know America was one of them,” she said.
Now, that was a bit of an extreme case -- but not as much as you might think. I am not telling you this to attack how history is taught in the public schools. I’m thinking about the media.
As pretty much everybody knows, traditional mainstream media -- the daily newspaper and the half-hour TV broadcast, are in trouble.