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History Prof Mark C. Carnes on Learning

I ran across an interesting news item today. Earlier this month Dr. Mark C. Carnes, who co-wrote one of the freshman history textbooks I critique in my columns, published an article titled Setting Students’ Minds on Fire.  He describes an “active-learning concept” that he helped invent, which is supposed to increase students’ level of involvement. Instead of studying what actually happened in earlier times, his students play elaborate games in which they act out their own version of history, fueled by their own imaginations. 

Professor Carnes apparently came up with the idea as a way to make history more “fun” for college students who have no interest in actually learning about the past. It’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of education in our country when college professors respond to lazy and apathetic students by dumbing down the content. There was a time when students who didn’t apply themselves to their studies simply flunked out.

Carnes seems to be determined to teach anything but history in his history classes. When I did my review of Professor Carnes textbook several months ago, I made the observation that “some of the weaknesses in American Destiny come from plain laziness on the part of the authors.” Carnes and his co-author (John A. Garraty) actually fluff up their textbook with several two-page articles about how popular movies depict events from history. And the book has several factual errors that seem to come from simple slopiness, quite apart from the misrepresentations that come from the authors’ political bias.

One way or another, Carnes seems to want to substitute fiction for historical fact.