I have been advocating a four-year history curriculum for high school—three years of Western civilization and one year of American history. Here I would like to recommend resources for American history.
(1) Ancient History (Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, early church)
(2) Medieval History (Christendom through the Reformation)
(3) Modern European History (Reformation through the present)
(4) American History
American History is important because the United States of America has been influential on the entire world. Every Western civilization course should therefore cover at least a brief history of the United States. However, as every person should be familiar with his or her own country’s past, Americans ought to give special focus to U.S. history.
Sadly, many Americans barely know their own history. This is why comedians make videos of people on the street who cannot answer simple questions about the U.S. I do not want to excuse such ignorance, but it must also be said that this is not entirely the fault of the individuals. Much blame belongs to our educational system. I know in my own case, I received a poor history education in high school, and that included American history.
It should not surprise us that American schools teach American history poorly, particularly public schools. They are, after all, government schools. And the government has good reason to make sure its schools are putting a certain spin on its history. The teachers may not even be aware of all that is going on, but it is quite clear that everything is slanted in favor of the government, from textbooks to teacher training programs. This is why even students who know a fair amount of American history do not know the whole story. There are many details that are usually left out, and there are certain perspectives that cannot even be entertained.
The American public is therefore left believing all sorts of myths about American history. They have been taught neutered versions of basically everything, including the Civil War, the New Deal, and World War I & II. A good survey of American history will therefore cover the basic names, dates, and events—but it will also cover the debates surrounding the events of the day, as well as competing historical perspectives. I know this requires people to think outside the box, but that is what good education does.
An American history course should begin with European colonization of America and end with the modern day. Students who study American history should be familiar with the Puritans and colonization, the American Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and the Cold War. Of course, there are all sorts of details outside of these events that should also be covered.
American History for Children
One of the best resources for teaching children history is Susan Wise Bauer’s series for grades 1–6, The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. (She covers ancient history in volume 1 and medieval history in volume 2). Bauer covers modern European and American history together in volumes 3 and 4 (rather than devoting an entire volume to American history). Students should begin with volume 3, Early Modern Times: From Elizabeth to the Forty-Niners. There is also an activity book and a test and answer key. After this, students can go on to volume 4, The Modern Age: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR, which also has an activity book and a test and answer key.
American History for High School (and Beyond)
All students should have some familiarity with American history as children. But high school is a time for in-depth study of American history. If ancient, medieval, and modern European history are studied from 9th to 11th grade, then American history can be studied in 12th grade. However, if Western civilization is condensed into two years, American history can be studied in 11th grade.
It is best to use a video lecture series for primary instruction in history, with books and articles supplementing the lectures. Ron Paul Homeschool has two Western civilization courses, with the second giving a good amount of attention to American history (Revolution, World Wars, Cold War). This is a good thing, because American history is the forte of the man teaching that course (Tom Woods). This course can also be purchased individually from Tom Woods Homeschool. The Ron Paul curriculum also has a new American history course taught by Dr. Gary North, who has his PhD in American history. This is an excellent addition to the curriculum.
I also strongly recommend Tom Wood's Liberty Classroom, which has two excellent courses on American history (see above). They are taught for adults but can also be used by intelligent high schoolers. Liberty Classroom offers many other great courses on history and economics, which can be downloaded and listened to in the car. You can subscribe to all their courses for only $89 per year.
Books on American history should be used as a supplement to video lectures. Here are two that I recommend:
American Pageant by David Kennedy. It is hard to find good textbooks. Many of them are written by large companies that are significantly influenced by government education agencies. This is particularly problematic for American history textbooks, including this one. Right from the start this book speaks of the earth being created billions of years ago, and it often gives the standard textbook explanation of events. However, I still recommend this textbook because it covers the important information and students will find it to be an interesting read. But be discerning, and make sure to read Woods’ book (below) along with this to balance things out. Older editions are more reasonably priced.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Tom Woods. This is not a textbook on American history. However, it is an excellent supplement to “mainstream” works. The title tells you everything—this is the politically incorrect version of American history. Woods discusses things they do not usually teach in public school. He shows that our government has trampled upon our Constitution, that Lincoln is not the hero he is proclaimed to be, that FDR made the Great Depression worse, and that the U.S. was not entirely innocent in its involvement in the World Wars. This is a fascinating read.