History professors say the darnedest things. Like the one who summed up his teaching philosophy declaring, “If I said it, that means they learned it!” Or the colleague who scoffed at “trendy” educational reforms because, as she put it, “You can't teach students how to think until you've taught them what to think.” Then there was the time an eminent historian rose to speak after my presentation on how not to teach the history survey. “I may be doing it wrong,” conceded this gifted, award-winning teacher, “but I am doing it in the proper and customary way.”1

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The professor's droll remark points to where we stand today in the teaching of history surveys, perhaps especially the U.S. history survey. Generations of undergraduates can testify that introductory surveys are taught in a “proper and customary way.” “First you listen to a lecture,...

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