No, History is not boring, but it certainly is usually taught in a boring fashion. The main culprits:
1. Badly Written Textbooks–Usually drafted by committees of fairly untalented hacks, they frequently make the reading of technical manuals seem exciting by comparison.
2. Politicized Drek-Textbooks often have a strong ideological slant. These days that slant is usually, although not always, driven from the Left. Therefore students are likely to read quite a bit on the treatment of women in colonial America, with the military history of the American Revolution left to a scant two pages. This distorts History and usually drains the life out of it, as the study of the past becomes yet another opportunity to deliver a twenty-first century political diatribe.
3. Ignorant Teachers-Too often History is taught by teachers who have little knowledge of it and no passion for it. When I was in high school back in the early Seventies, coaches often were assigned to teach History, under the assumption that anyone could teach it. There were exceptions, and I still have fond memories of Mr. Geisler who taught American history and Mr. Vanlandingham who taught European history, but the usual level of the teaching of History was quite low.
4. Laundry Lists-States often mandate inclusion of certain subjects in History. This results in a laundry list approach of teaching History in which so many topics must be covered that short shrift is given to understanding a period as a whole.
5. Too Much-When I was in school we were lucky in an American history course to reach the end of World War II before the course ended. Stuff too much of a time period into a course, and the instruction will amount to a race against time.
6. The Students- The bone ignorance of most American students when it comes to History cannot be exaggerated. When I was attending the University of Illinois I recall a conversation with a Junior at the University. I made a passing allusion to Grant taking Richmond, and she confessed to me that she had heard of General Grant and of General Lee but that she wasn’t sure if they had fought for the North or the South. We can call this the John Blutarsky problem:
Instruction will be boring in History if the teachers have to assume that the students have absorbed almost no basic knowledge on the subject prior to entering their class and spend all their time teaching the most elementary of facts.
7. Lifeless History- Too often it seems that History is taught with an eye to draining all passion from it. Wars are given short shrift, the lives of great men are ignored, and the religious and political passions of the past are treated with a lack of understanding that render them incomprehensible to the students.
All in all, a rather dispiriting litany of gloom. In a future post we will examine what can be done to improve instruction.