Rebooting American History

As America marks Constitution Day, research shows most Americans don’t know how many amendments the Constitution includes, one of the questions on the U.S. citizenship test. The National Assessment of Educational Progress also reports that the average U.S. history score for eighth grade students was four points lower in 2018 compared to 2014. One in five students say they have no interest in studying the Cold War. Advocates believe there’s an urgent need to transform the way American history is taught and learned.


The Driving Force Institute for Public Engagement (DFI) is launching to fill this need with an aim to make American history content interesting and relevant for today’s learners.


The new nonprofit’s initial effort involves creating and distributing a comprehensive American history video series that focuses on what is interesting to high school students. DFI says that video content, accessed by students both in the classroom and out of school, is the most effective underutilized tool available.


DFI’s UNTOLD series on YouTube is the home for new short form videos that will post each week during the 2020–21 school year.  All the videos are free. In addition, DFI is making related materials to support learning, whether in a traditional classroom, virtual or hybrid setting, available to educators.


For example, “How the Census Changed America” features eye-catching graphics and an engaging narrator to explain the failure of the first U.S. Census, why that upset Thomas Jefferson and how that led to innovative thinking that helped create an American business that exists today.


Makematic and the University of Southern California’s Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education (EDGE) create and distribute the videos. DFI is also collaborating with the New York Historical Society and XQ Super School.


Patrick Riccards, founder and chief executive officer of DFI, says, “To make a real difference in the learning of history, we must approach the problem from several angles, exploring different concerns to inject real solutions. As tens of millions of students across the country are forced to shift to virtual learning — and as their teachers look for new engaging learning materials to hold their students’ interests — now is the time to change the teaching and learning of American history.”


DFI is using an integrated set of efforts designed to get at the three legs of the history instruction stool:


Support instruction for current K–12 American history teachers, designed to both improve their own understanding of American history and empower them to better connect with their students and make history an exciting and worthwhile pursuit of study. As an incentive, teachers who successfully participate in DFI will receive micro-credentials and badges that signify they are part of a national network committed to improving American history instruction.


Curriculum design for both traditional classrooms and out-of-school-time environments,

changing the very way American history is taught in communities across the nation; and


Direct-to-consumer engagement, providing interesting and dynamic learning opportunities to students (and by extension, their families) through a digital platform.


To meet these needs, DFI will soon launch a pilot project that will recruit small teams of educators in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This project will help shape the development of the website content, ensuring the most effective utilization possible.


Ultimately, DFI will seek to develop an online professional development platform, a series of “historians’ toolkits,” models for a “flipped” American history curriculum, and an archive of games and simulations for educators to use with students.