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College Students Say High School History Says Too Little About Race in America

A new Axios/Generation Lab poll of 810 college students finds a large majority of young scholars agreeing with a fundamental concept of critical race theory. 69% of the students polled say that “racism today is primarily systemic, not committed by individuals with prejudice,” and 82% say that “schools should teach that racism is ingrained in law.” Far more Democratic students respond affirmatively to those questions than do Republican students.

But the poll reveals that the Republican revisionists who are abusing “critical race theory” as a hot-button distraction to cloak their fascist thought-policing are out of touch with what’s really being taught in our high school classrooms. 66% of these recent and attentive high school graduates (I say attentive because these poll subjects all got into college, so they must have paid attention in grades 9–12) say their high school history curriculum “was flawed in how it taught race.” 93% of those students finding fault with their HS history curriculum’s approach to race say their curriculum “did not focus enough on race and its impact on history.” The partisan breakdown shows 81% of Democratic students saying yes to that question but only 23% of Republican students.

Hmmm… if our schools really were overdoing “critical race theory” to an extent that required legislative intervention, you’d think more students would say the flaw in their history curriculum was too much talk about race, not too little. And if our schools really were undermining patriotism by portraying America as a minority-oppressing white-supremacist fascist regime, you’d think those numbers would be flipped: the racist right-wing students would be saying our Commie-pinko schools are getting race wrong while the left-wing Democratic students would be saying, No, the schools are getting race in America about right. 

Fortunately, these critical young people also paid attention in their civics classes:

Axios/Generation Lab, opinion of college students on role of state legislatures in controlling history curriculum, poll conducted June 24–28, 2021.
Axios/Generation Lab, opinion of college students on role of state legislatures in controlling history curriculum, poll conducted June 24–28, 2021.

77% of the students polled say state legislatures should stay out of curriculum decisions. Indeed, why would we want partisan hacks who misrepresent historical facts overriding the judgment of our teachers, the well-trained experts in curriculum development and delivery?


  1. Donald Pay 2021-07-08 08:13

    Not much has change from the late 60’s, when I was taking American History and American Government at Sioux Falls Lincoln High. We did deal with race in a Current Events course i took in high school. I would say that my two college history courses in the early 70’s did not deal with race much either. I took a couple sociology courses in college where race and class were a large part of the discussion. Sociology is always leading the History Departments into a real discussion of history, it seems.

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-07-08 09:36

    Well, what did I learn about race in grade school and high school, absolutely nothing. A cheer for freeing slaves in the Civil War, maybe. TV coverage of the South helped. Really until I read Howard Zinn later, everything I was taught was a coverup. Even in college, not much discussion. It’s no wonder Republicans are freaked by facts they don’t want to know.

  3. bearcreekbat 2021-07-08 10:37

    Mark, another rather enlightening source of factual information on this topic is the recently published book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson.

  4. Mark Anderson 2021-07-08 16:06

    Bearcreekbat, thanks, my wife is downloading the audible as I type. Looks great, it might take awhile to listen, over 14 hours.

  5. Porter Lansing 2021-07-08 16:41

    Another book on the subject of race and class is appropriately named, “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” by Akala

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-07-08 18:00

    Donald and Mark get me thinking that most of us probably had mostly white teachers who didn’t have much direct experience with racism. SD is still short on diversity in its teaching corps. I suspect teachers generally remain hesitant to delve into controversial topics that might raise hackles among their parents and school board voters. They just wanna keep their heads down and get through the material. That’s the results we see from the survey or student say they didn’t learn enough about this nation’s history of systemic racism.

  7. bearcreekbat 2021-07-08 18:12

    De nada, Mark. I think you will find it quite interesting.

    Porter, Akala’s book also looks like a good read and its now on my reading list. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-07-08 18:52

    Well Cory, our sex education was a handout we had to read while the teacher left the room. He was also a coach. That was it, one time. One third of the women in my high school class got pregnant before graduation. Such a wonderful avoidance by our mentors. Same old, same old.

  9. K 2021-07-08 19:17

    What drives me crazy about the CRT moral panic is that I am teaching college students — and high school dual credit students — that still use the term “colored people” (and honestly don’t know why it’s a bad thing to say), have no idea that residential segregation is a thing let alone the devastating impact of the practice historically or in the present day, and have never heard of the school-to-prison pipeline. So as much as I’d like to laugh off yet another ridiculous moral panic, it’s actually working to keep SD students fairly ignorant of the situation of many people across the country and the systems that enforce much of the racial inequality that exists.

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-07-08 20:27

    As a young boy, in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s, I’d summer in the deep south. I saw segregation first hand. Separate restaurants and grocery stores. Cross burnings. Black people had a separate part of town called n***er town and weren’t allowed to leave, except to work for white people.

    I knew about things that were going on in America that none of my teachers had any experience or knowledge of. Or, if they did, they weren’t teaching. And I was told to keep it to myself.

    These experiences, at a young age, are probably why my tolerance of South Dakota bigots is nonexistent.

  11. Anne Beal 2021-07-09 20:47

    my awareness of what my children were being taught in their history classes was: NOTHING.

    My daughter had a wrestling coach for a history teacher whose idea of teaching about the Civil War was to have them watch a soap opera called “North and South” which starred Patrick Swayze and Leslie-Anne Down. When I asked why he hadn’t chosen the Ken Burns Civil War series, he told me he had never heard of it.

    Eavesdropping on a history class later, another teacher got to the lesson about John Winthrop. The lesson, in its entirety, consisted of “there is a picture of him in your book. He had some interesting ideas.”

    When history is taught by men who were hired for their athletic coaching skills, racism isn’t the only thing the kids aren’t going to learn anything about..
    I actually had a high school graduate ask me to explain how I knew that 2000 BCE was 4000 years ago. They aren’t even learning THAT!

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