I meant to post something about this interview when it appeared over the weekend, but internet problems got in the way. Anyway, famed popular historian David McCullough correctly identifies some of the reasons why Americans don't know their history--unprepared teachers, politically correct textbooks, uninspired classroom methods. There's a problem that he overlooks, however. He seems to assume that if more teachers graduated with degrees in history rather than pedagogy there would be an improvement in the population's historical knowledge. Given what goes on in many university history departments, that may not be the case.
For years the emphasis in undergraduate history teaching has been on method, rather than content. That is, students are expected to learn to become historians, rather than to know history. For example, I was an undergraduate at Ohio University, and had to take a research methods course that went through, in excruciating detail, all of the different reference works with which we needed to be familiar in order to track down sources that we might need to write a scholarly paper. This course was ultimately useless even for me, since within ten years the internet had made all of those reference works obsolete. How much more useless was the course for the vast majority of those who took it with me--who, unlike me, did not go on to graduate school?
I was lucky, though, in the sense that most of the faculty at Ohio University were of the old school that understood that, when it comes to historical knowledge, some historical facts are more important than others. The real danger of emphasizing method over content is that everything eventually becomes equally important. If, after all, history is only about imparting research methods, communication skills, and (my personal favorite) "critical thinking," then why should some professor whose research interests involve the construction of gender in Massachusetts during the late 1770s be troubled to teach a course on the American Revolution? Every course could be built around the current research of the individual faculty--and you'd have something like the history curriculum as it exists at most elite institutions of higher learning today.
With all due respect to Mr. McCullough, if that's the way that history is being taught, it's not clear to me that prospective teachers are any worse off taking education courses.