5 U.S. Presidents Who Taught School

5 U.S. Presidents Who Taught School

1. John Adams

When John Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755, the 19-year-old Massachusetts native found himself at a crossroads. As a child, he’d considered formal education tiresome and yearned to be like his father, a farmer. Now, however, he was torn between the ministry career his parents hoped he’d choose and his growing interest in the law. While he weighed his options, the future second U.S. president taught a dozen boys and girls in a one-room schoolhouse in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he boarded at the home of a local doctor.

Not the most devoted schoolmaster in history, Adams would reportedly entrust his leading students with conducting the class so he could read or write at his desk. Still, he learned from his “little runtlings” and made profound observations about education and human nature, noting that encouragement and praise yielded better results than punishment and scolding. In a letter to a friend in which he fancifully described himself as his school’s “dictator,” he wrote, “I have several renowned generals but three feet high, and several deep, projecting politicians in petticoats.” Adams left teaching to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1758.

2. Millard Fillmore

Apprenticed to a New York textile manufacturer as a teenager, Millard Fillmore spent his time outside the mill reading the dictionary and trying to digest enormous legal tomes. In 1819 the 19-year-old attended a newly opened local school for several months; there he fell in love with his teacher, Abigail Powers, a minister’s daughter two years his senior. The pair wed in 1826 after a long courtship.

In the early 1820s Fillmore followed in his sweetheart’s footsteps, teaching elementary school while clerking for a county judge. He used his earnings to dissolve his obligation to the textile factory and was admitted to the bar in 1823. While the 13th president’s schoolmaster career was short-lived, his future first lady continued to teach even after she married her husband—a rarity during that day and age.

3. James Garfield

Born into poverty in an Ohio log cabin, James Garfield hoped to leave his family farm and seek his fortune on the high seas. At 16 he took a job driving a team of barge-pulling horses near Cleveland. But soon illness struck, forcing the young man to return home and carve a new path. He reluctantly went off to boarding school, paying his way by chopping wood, doing chores and, by 1849, teaching in rural classrooms during his vacations. Garfield’s first teaching post brought him $12 a month plus board, but it wasn’t until a violent brawl with a troublemaking pupil that he earned his students’ respect.

Garfield went on to attend college and teach at a series of institutions throughout the 1850s. For a brief period of time he served as a penmanship instructor at North Pownal Academy in Vermont, where his future vice president, Chester Arthur, had taught several years earlier. Garfield left education in 1859 and studied law until his election to the Ohio state senate. Perhaps it was his first career that inspired the 20th U.S. president to write, “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”

4. Grover Cleveland

When Grover Cleveland’s minister father died suddenly in 1853, the 16-year-old was forced to help support his mother and eight siblings. He abandoned his dream of attending college and took a post alongside his brother, a teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind in Manhattan. Cleveland served as secretary to the school’s president and as an assistant teacher of reading, writing, arithmetic and geography. Quaker philanthropist Samuel Wood had founded the institution in 1831, and it continues to operate today as the New York Institute for Special Education.

While teaching Cleveland met fellow instructor Fanny Crosby, a blind poet and hymn writer who would rise to national fame. She became a lifelong friend of the future president. The institute’s long hours and bleak atmosphere took a toll on young Cleveland, and he left after a year to work as a clerk and study law.

5. Lyndon B. Johnson

Before he entered politics, the 36th U.S. president attended a teachers’ college and pursued a career in education. Born in a farmhouse in 1908, Lyndon B. Johnson operated an elevator and built roads as a teenager and young man. At 20 he taught underprivileged children of Mexican descent at a small school in Cotulla, Texas, earning a reputation for his dedication, high standards and encouragement of his students. Years later, after signing the Higher Education Act of 1965, Johnson reflected on this early experience, saying, “I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American.”

Johnson went on to teach public speaking and debate at several Texas high schools. In 1931 he moved to Washington and became a congressional aide. Just four years later, at age 27, he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, a position that allowed him to draw on his teaching background while influencing policy decisions.

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List of presidents of the United States

The president of the United States is the head of state and head of government of the United States, indirectly elected to a four-year term by the American people through the Electoral College. The officeholder leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Since the office was established in 1789, 45 people have served in 46 presidencies. The first president, George Washington, won a unanimous vote of the Electoral College one, Grover Cleveland, served two non-consecutive terms and is therefore counted as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States (giving rise to the discrepancy between the number of presidents and the number of persons who have served as president).

The presidency of William Henry Harrison, who died 31 days after taking office in 1841, was the shortest in American history. Franklin D. Roosevelt served the longest, over twelve years, before dying early in his fourth term in 1945. He is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms. Since the ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1951, no person may be elected president more than twice, and no one who has served more than two years of a term to which someone else was elected may be elected more than once. [1]

Four presidents died in office of natural causes (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt), four were assassinated (Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy), and one resigned (Richard Nixon, facing impeachment). John Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency during a presidential term, and set the precedent that a vice president who does so becomes the fully functioning president with his presidency, as opposed to a caretaker president. The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution put Tyler's precedent into law in 1967. It also established a mechanism by which an intra-term vacancy in the vice presidency could be filled. Richard Nixon was the first president to fill a vacancy under this provision when he selected Gerald Ford for the office following Spiro Agnew's resignation in 1973. The following year, Ford became the second to do so when he chose Nelson Rockefeller to succeed him after he acceded to the presidency. As no mechanism existed for filling an intra-term vacancy in the vice presidency before 1967, the office was left vacant until filled through the next ensuing presidential election and subsequent inauguration.

10. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)

On March 4, 1865, Andrew Johnson was inaugurated as vice president during Abraham Lincoln’s short-lived second term. He became the 17th US president just over a month later, on April 15, 1865 – the day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Johnson was born in a log cabin in North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His mother was a laundress, and both his parents were practically illiterate. At just ten years old, Johnson was sent to work as an apprentice to a tailor, where another employee helped him learn basic reading and writing. Locals came by to read to the tailors, and the future politician listened. According to Johnson’s biographer Annette Gordon-Reed, this is where the future president’s skill for public speaking originated. When he was 17 years old, Johnson opened a tailor shop in Greenville, Tennessee. He also met his wife Eliza McCardle at 17 and she helped him with reading, grammar and mathematics. The pair went on to marry in 1827 when Johnson was 18 years old and McCardle was 16.

James Buchanan

The 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan is better known as that guy you always forget when naming presidents. Which is unfortunate, because he probably did more damage to race relations than anyone else in American history short of Strom Thurmond. Buchanan served from 1857 to 1861 when he was replaced by Abraham Lincoln, and shortly thereafter the states had a little bit of a tiff. During his term, Buchanan oversaw some of the most embarrassing political actions in the nation’s history. First, he encouraged a ruling against blacks in the landmark Dred Scott case, also known as the decision that allowed legal discrimination to persist for another century. He also worked tirelessly to preserve the rights of states to allow slavery, and allow for slavery in newly-created states and territories.

To put this in historical perspective, when the Founders were drafting up the Constitution, many of them wanted to outlaw slavery entirely. Unfortunately, that would have (surprise) led to a Civil War in the fledgling nation. So several deals such as the three-fifths compromise were struck, with many of the Founding Fathers secretly and not-so-secretly hoping that slavery would be overturned within a few decades. When these issues came to the fore almost a century later, Buchanan had the chance to make all the right decisions, and instead he did practically everything wrong. Not only that, but he was one of those insufferably casual racists who would say things such as “[slaves were] treated with kindness and humanity… Both the philanthropy and the self-interest of the master have combined to produce this humane result”. In Buchanan’s mind, the right of the slaveowner to hold slaves overrode the rights of the person they were enslaving.

While a Civil War to end slavery might have been inevitable, and Buchanan could be credited with staving it off for a few years, that doesn’t forgive him of the fact that the deleterious effects of policies enacted under his watch extended well into the 20th century. They became so engrained that when the Supreme Court finally decided it might be time to give black people rights, they had to roll out the National Guard to enforce it.

5 Events in Black History You Never Learned in School

It's been said that history is often written by the victors, but in the case of the Civil War, the saying might not hold true. Although the Union army of the North won the war, the Southern Confederacy may have won the narrative that followed.

Case in point: Soon after the failure of Reconstruction, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) went to work rewriting the textbooks — and therefore history — across the school systems in the South by blacklisting textbooks that were "unjust to the institutions of the South" and publishing new ones that adhered to their distorted version of Civil War history. In other words, The Lost Cause narrative.

Writings by Southern historians like Edward Pollard and Confederate General Jubal Early reframed the Confederacy as an "heroic defense of the Southern way of life against the overwhelming forces in the North," according to Vox. Part of the UDC's strategy was to preserve and teach their distorted perception of the war — including the much-romanticized lives of slaves and the relationships they had with their masters.

"In addition to putting up monuments to the Confederacy all over the South, the UDC also wrote and published textbooks to indoctrinate Southern children in their Lost Cause mythology," explains Brad Perry, founder of The Public Franklin, an activist group that promotes anti-racism through education, advocacy and action in Franklin, Tennessee. Perry is also an educator who has taught and developed curriculum on African American history to high school students. "These textbooks almost completely omitted the achievements and contributions of African Americans, and they were used by the overwhelming majority of Southern public schools well into the 1970s."

So it's no surprise that many adults educated after 1877 in U.S. public schools never learned about these five accomplishments achieved by — and injustices faced by — African Americans.

1. Redlining and Racist Housing Practices

For decades, redlining was a practice many banks in the U.S. used to deny mortgages to mostly people of color in urban areas. It stemmed from the Great Depression when the government was evaluating the riskiness of mortgages but now gives us a glimpse into how discriminatory American housing policies were.

Redlining was common in the 1930s in big cities like Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago. The housing and real estate industries helped redlining flourish by increasing prices of properties in predominantly white neighborhoods for African American buyers, ensuring the neighborhoods remained white.

But it was the infamous redlining maps from lenders like Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) that allow us to see the practice in black and white. The HOLC (and other lenders) graded neighborhoods into categories based on race. Those with minorities were marked red and were considered high-risk for lenders.

These practices led to the inequality of wealth between Black and white people that continues to this day. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition's "HOLC 'Redlining' Maps: The Persistent Structure Of Segregation And Economic Inequality" report from 2018, cities the HOLC graded high-risk or "hazardous" still have greater economic inequality.

2. Elizabeth 'Mum Bett' Freeman Sues for Freedom

Elizabeth Freeman, nicknamed "Mum Bett," was born into slavery in 1742, and was given to the Ashley family of Sheffield, Massachusetts, in her early teens. While enslaved, she married and eventually had a daughter named Betsy.

One day in 1780, Mrs. Ashley accused Betsy of being a thief and chased her with a hot shovel. Freeman jumped in between the two just as Ashley was swinging and blocked the shovel with her arm. Freeman received a deep wound on her arm and displayed the scar her entire life as proof of her poor treatment.

After the Revolutionary War, Freeman was walking through town and heard the Massachusetts State Constitution being read aloud. After hearing "all men are born free and equal," she thought about the legal and spiritual meaning of these words. She met with Theodore Sedgwick, an attorney and abolitionist she knew and asked to sue for her freedom.

He took her case, but because women at the time had very few legal rights, Sedgwick added a male slave known simply as "Brom" to the lawsuit and sued Col. John Ashley.

In the case Brom and Bett v. Ashley, Sedgwick argued that based on the Constitution, she and Brom shouldn't be considered property and therefore should be free. The jury in the Court of Common Pleas decided in their favor.

Col. Ashley appealed to the Supreme Court but later dropped the appeal, making Mum Bett the first female slave to sue and win her freedom.

3. Tulsa Was Home to 'Black Wall Street'

In the 1890s, after the Emancipation Proclamation, Oklahoma became a haven for freed slaves looking to start new lives. As African Americans started businesses and built a flourishing community, the affluent area in Tulsa known as the Greenwood District was coined "Negro Wall Street" by Booker T. Washington.

Here — unlike many other places in the U.S. — Black residents could get loans, a strategy Black businessmen created by pooling their resources. As the benefits of land and business ownership multiplied, doctors opened practices, teachers opened schools and the prosperity of Greenwood was undeniable. The district boasted grocery stores, movie theaters, hair salons, restaurants, entertainment, churches, social organizations and more.

A journalist started a newspaper called the Tulsa Star, which helped the district continue to thrive. The Tulsa Star regularly printed articles about legal rights and rulings that spurred the community members to advocate for themselves. As Greenwood became more socially active and upwardly mobile, it drew the attention of white residents in Tulsa — particularly poor whites — who resented the Blacks' rise in position, property and power.

But all was not peaceful. In 1921, as racial tensions grew, a newspaper article in the Tulsa Tribune accused a young African American man of raping a white teenage girl and violence ensued. Between May 31 and June 1, more than 300 Black residents were killed by whites, many of the more than 80 businesses were burned or looted, and several citizens were left without homes in what's been dubbed the Tulsa Race Massacre.

4. Mary Kenner Changes Women's Lives Forever

You probably learned about George Washington Carver in high school. But you've probably never heard of Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. She's the African American woman we can thank for inventing the sanitary belt in 1957 and revolutionizing women's lives across the entire globe.

Before her invention, women were still using cloth pads and rags during their periods, which made it difficult to work outside of the home for fear of accidents. Kenner's simple idea was to create an adjustable belt with a moisture-proof pocket for napkins. Genius.

When Kenner invented her modern-day maxi-pad, it was illegal for African American women to apply for patents. But that didn't deter her. She continued to perfect her sanitary belt — and decades later, she was able to patent it and several other inventions, as well. And although Kenner never gained wealth or recognition for her many inventions, she is still the only African American woman in history to file five patents that solved real problems for women.

5. The Ocoee Election Day Massacre

On Feb. 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving African American men the right to vote. By Election Day 1920, it had been legal for 50 years, but many Black citizens still didn't exercise their right to vote out of fear of retribution. Those fears came true in Ocoee, Florida, on Nov. 2, 1920, which ultimately ended as the most violent day in American election history.

On Nov. 1, Ku Klux Klan members marched in robes, carrying crosses and threatening violence if any Black men attempted to vote in Ocoee. But African American Mose Norman, who was a prominent landowner, chose to exercise his democratic right anyway. When Norman approached the polls, a crowd was at the entrance to stop Blacks from casting votes.

Norman left and returned with a group of Black citizens demanding to vote, but they again were turned away. An altercation ensued.

Norman retreated to the home of his friend, civil rights activist Julius "July" Perry, leaving the white mob enraged. The mob of mostly KKK members went looking for Norman — and any other Black trying to assert their right to vote. The mob headed to Perry's home, but Norman was gone. They questioned Perry and a gunfight ensued. Perry was "arrested" and lynched Nov. 3, 1920.

But the white mob didn't stop there. They continued from house to house firing guns and torching homes, turning the day into a "gruesome racial purging" that ended with the murder of between 35 and 50 Black Ocoee residents. Every house in Ocoee's Methodist Quarter, plus the school and the Ocoee African Methodist Episcopal Church were set on fire. Soon after, most African Americans that survived moved away, including Norman, who left Florida for New York City where he lived until his death in 1949.

On June 24, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law mandating a uniformed statewide education curriculum on both the Holocaust and the Ocoee Election Day massacre of 1920 in Florida's public schools. The legislation went into effect July 1, 2020.

LBJ: From Teacher to President

Today’s post comes from Alexis Percle, archives technician at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, in honor of our upcoming National Conservation on Educational Access and Equity on March 7. Register to attend in person or watch the livestream.

“As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.

As a former teacher–and, I hope, a future one–I have great expectations of what this law will mean for all of our young people.

As President of the United States, I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America.”

With these words, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on April 11, 1965. Sitting beside him was his first teacher, Ms. Kate Deadrich Loney, who taught Johnson in a one-room schoolhouse just outside Stonewall, Texas.

As a young high school graduate, Johnson did not immediately pursue education, opting instead to travel with friends to California and work odd jobs, including as an elevator operator. After this experience, and a short career as a manual laborer for a road crew, Johnson became frustrated with the lack of opportunity available to him.

So, in 1927, Lyndon Baines Johnson enrolled at Southwest Texas State College. Prior to beginning his courses as a college student, Johnson had to complete pre-college courses. As a graduate of a rural school, Johnson and similar students had to complete these pre-college courses to ensure they met minimum qualifications and standards. Then, in the summer of 1928, Johnson once again had to put his college career on hold so he could earn enough money to continue paying for his college courses.

It was this financial need that motivated Johnson to accept a position as a teacher at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico. Johnson’s classes were made up of the children of Mexican-American farmers. Johnson didn’t speak Spanish and many of his students didn’t speak English. Despite this limitation, Johnson quickly and enthusiastically began teaching and encouraging the children to speak English by holding speech and debate tournaments.

In addition, Johnson organized a literary society, an athletic club, and organized field trips to neighboring towns so his students could compete in sporting events, speech, and spelling contests. With his first paycheck, Johnson bought playground equipment. In a letter home to his mother, Johnson wrote about his work with the students and asked her for help in sending toothpaste for the children and borrowing materials for his debate team.

Despite his strict nature as a teacher, Johnson’s concern for the students left a lasting impression on both his co-workers and his students. In 1929, the Superintendent wrote a colleague calling Johnson a “school man of the highest type” and a “tireless worker,” saying, “He is one of the very best men I have ever had with me…”

His experiences at Cotulla and the hardships faced by his students inspired many of the educational policies sought by Johnson during his presidency. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the nation’s efforts to improve education focused on the upper grades. But many young African-American and Mexican-American students did not remain in school long enough to benefit from these programs.

Johnson recognized the need for assistance in the early grades. He saw the need for programs which would help disadvantaged students compete with their counterparts in middle class neighborhoods. Aside from legislation like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, President Johnson launched programs like Project Head Start, which offered health, social services, and early learning experiences to children about to enter kindergarten or first grade. President Johnson also encouraged programs to support bilingual education, child nutrition (which included access to free breakfast and lunches for impoverished children), and Federal aid to elementary schools.

Throughout his presidency and, indeed, his life, President Johnson maintained a firm conviction that the American promise of opportunity could best be pursued through education. In 1972, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas hosted a symposium highlighting Johnson’s accomplishments in the field of education. Sidney P. Marland, the U.S. Commissioner of Education under President Nixon said, “President Johnson, I believe, takes satisfaction in being called ‘the Education President.’ He richly and fully deserves it.”

Part of education is studying the past and applying those lessons to the present. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said, “The role of the National Archives is to ensure that people have access to the records that demonstrate how those rights were achieved, so that we can learn from those records.”

In establishing the LBJ Library, President Johnson epitomized that role by donating his papers to the American people. At the opening ceremony of the library, President Johnson reiterated his intent to provide access to the records of his administration for future students and historians. In addition, Johnson further emphasized his strong belief in the power of education by establishing the Library and Museum in connection with the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where he spent part of his post-presidential life by, once again, becoming a teacher and instructing University of Texas students in public policy and affairs.

Register to attend in person or watch the livestream of our upcoming National Conservation on Educational Access and Equity on March 7.

50 states, 50 different ways of teaching America's past

As part of a two-month-long investigation into how black history is taught in the U.S., CBS News took a look at the social studies standards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The analysis uncovered problematic lessons, varying interpretations of history and recommendations for what students should learn.

There are no national social studies standards to mandate what topics or historical figures students must learn about. The state social studies standards are a document or documents that detail what public school students are expected to know in specific states.

During the state standards analysis, CBS News found that seven states do not directly mention slavery in their state standards and eight states do not mention the civil rights movement. Only two states mention white supremacy, while 16 states list states' rights as a cause of the Civil War.

Here's a closer look at CBS News' findings:

Slavery and civil rights movement

While most state standards do directly mention the teaching of two defining moments in American history, slavery and the civil rights movement, what states expect their students to learn about these topics can vary drastically.

In Massachusetts, the social studies standards mention slavery and enslaved people more than 60 times. In 3rd grade, students are expected to learn "that colonial Massachusetts had both free and enslaved Africans in its population." Two grades later, students are asked to grapple with slavery, the legacy of the Civil War, and the struggle for Civil Rights for all.

Honoring Black History

But in neighboring New Hampshire, the state standards simply mention the words "slavery" and "racism" as part of a thematic lesson about social and race relations.

States also reference slavery in some problematic contexts within their standards. In West Virginia's state standards, slavery is listed as an example in a lesson on "explaining the concept of supply and demand in specific historic" situations. In North Carolina's state standards, "immigration of Africans to the American South" is mentioned as part of a lesson on why people move from place to place.

CBS News contributor and author of "How to Be An Antiracist," Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, said referring to Africans as immigrants or as immigrating to the United States is not accurate because they were brought by force.

"And certainly did not want to come to the United States in chains," he said.

Kendi is also the founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University.

As for the states that do not&mdashor only briefly mention&mdashslavery or the civil rights movement, Dr. Tina Heafner, president of the National Council for the Social Studies, said this does not necessarily mean students are not learning about these topics.

Some state standards focus on the process of learning and development of skills, leaving it to the local school districts to determine what specific historical figures and topics are taught.

For example, while New York's social studies state standards span more than 150 pages and offers details on teaching "the development of slavery as a racial institution," Delaware's social studies standards are just five pages and focus on developing skills like comparing "competing historical narratives."

But Heafner, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said having topics like slavery and the civil rights movement in standards makes it more likely to be taught in the classroom.

"When teachers think about what they have to teach, they turn to the curriculum standards as their guideline," she said. "So the fact that they are not there could give a perception that is not something that is absolutely essential that they have to address."

Cause of the Civil War

CBS News looked at each states' standards to see how they describe the cause of the Civil War, and again found, it greatly varies.

Utah's state standards assert that, "The Civil War era and Reconstruction are important aspects of U.S. history, essential to understanding modern America, including race relations and inequality." Many states, including Oklahoma, correctly list slavery as the "principal cause" of the Civil War.

Yet, CBS News found many other states offer different&mdashand often inaccurate&mdashreasons for the cause of the war. The 16 states that still list "states' rights" as one of the causes often do so alongside other issues like sectionalism, tariffs and economic disagreements.

Kendi took issue with the term states' rights.

"This was the term that the confederate states, that later segregationists, and even some slaveholders, utilized to hide that they were really fighting for the rights of slaveholders," he said.

In their secession documents, Mississippi, Texas and South Carolina each said slavery was their reason for leaving the Union. And as Kendi points out, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens declared in his "Cornerstone Speech" of 1861 that the new government is formed "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition."

Historians have said it is only after the war when the institution of slavery was abolished that southerners began listing "states' rights" as a cause for the Civil War.

Keven Ellis, the chair of the Texas State Board of Education, defended including "states' rights" in Texas' social studies standard, but pointed out it's in a different context than it previously was.

"I think that even when you look at states' rights it focused around slavery," he said. "So what we are doing now is just being clear, that those states' rights that the South was fighting over, was states' rights for them to have slavery."

In 2018, Texas reviewed its state social studies standards, leading to heated debates over whether states' rights should be considered as a cause of the Civil War&mdashand whether defenders of the Alamo should be considered "heroic." Language around states' rights changed in the state standards, but calling defenders of the Alamo heroic remained.

Racism and white supremacy

Recent movements like Black Lives Matter and the attack in Charlottesville helped jumpstart conversations about race and racism in America, but those conversations appear to be happening less frequently in the nation's classrooms. Less than half of the states in their social studies standards directly ask students to learn about racism.

In some state standards, like in Pennsylvania, teachings on racial discrimination are introduced in elementary school. Students learn about "racial relations" and the "treatment of minority groups in history" in third grade.

Meanwhile, Texas expects students taking a high school sociology elective course to be able to "explain instances of institutional racism in American society." But it does not directly mention institutional racism in its mandatory U.S. history classes.

Just Massachusetts and Maryland mention the word "white supremacy," in their state standards, even though Kendi said it's important students learn about the issue.

"That's American history," he said.

Politics and other challenges

There is no national curriculum for teaching United States history. And Heafner said the process for adopting state standards, especially in a field like social studies that wrestles with the history of racism or white supremacy, can be politicized.

"There are ideologies and beliefs that tend to guide the decisions that are made at the policy level in states to determine what can be included and what cannot be included in standards," she said. "Given that nature it does not surprise me that the language is not present because many policy makers are unwilling to tackle those hard issues."

When asked why change has been slow when it comes to textbooks and the state standards in Texas, Ellis, the chair of the Texas State Board of Education said: "I think (Texas), as well as a lot of states in the South, were behind the times in coming to change that process," he said.

Ellis told CBS News as the board has changed and new people have been elected, more progress has been made. He pointed to changes the board has made in recent years, including adding the teaching of Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan to the state standards, and making sure slavery is listed as the central cause of the Civil War. The state is also poised to add a high school African American studies elective this year, which Ellis has been publicly pushing for. Ellis told CBS News he feels it's important all children are able to see themselves reflected in what they are learning, and the board strives to do that.

"I think that we are in a much better place than we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago and I'm optimistic that even five years from now we are going to be in an even better place than we are even today," he said.

Still Dan Quinn, a researcher and press secretary for the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive advocacy group, argues more must be done.

"For many decades, we haven't done a very good job teaching about the contributions of people of color in our history and our culture. We're finally seeing some progress toward that," said Quinn. "But you need to see more of that progress toward that in the core courses, rather than just relegating those to courses in ethnic studies that are not taken by most students in the classroom."

Some school districts, including Philadelphia, have made a yearlong African American studies course a requirement for high school graduation. States including Florida, New Jersey and New York mandate black history be taught in public schools, but some critics fear those mandates aren't being enforced.

Overall, studies show classroom time devoted to social studies education continues to decline&mdashand there are questions about what that continued decline means for black history education. A 2016 survey conducted by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture estimated that under 10% of total class time is devoted to teaching African American history.

"If students don't have access to social studies&mdashlearning civics to learning history&mdashthen they are certainly not going to be prepared for the jobs and responsibilities they have as engaged citizens," said Heafner. "(History) does help us understand the world in which we live and the complexity of that world and the issues that we are grappling with and the various perspectives that we are trying to find some compromise on."

Role of teachers

And while states set expectations for what students learn, experts say in the end, it is up to individual districts to decide what and how students are taught&mdashand up to teachers to bring those lessons to life.

That can be a problem, too. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture report found that teachers often lack "content knowledge" and "confidence in the information they currently know" when it comes to teaching topics like slavery.

Heafner said her organization provides resources and professional development to help.

"Teachers want to understand and learn the complexity of the history that many of them did not learn in their own education experience because the curriculum that was taught to them while they were in school was distinctly different&mdashvery whitewashed curriculum&mdashthat has changed and transformed over time," she said.

After reviewing the state standards data collected by CBS News, Kendi said he would like to see some changes to how history is taught in schools.

"I do think every state should have the ability to write its own history, but there's the nation history and then the state history," he said. "Certainly it should be historians who are gathered at a national level to set national history standards that should be taught to all American children."

Curious what students are expected to learn in your state? Click below to be directed to the state social studies standards.

Legal Language Blog

Aside from their election to the most powerful position in the US, Barack Obama, Richard Nixon and Thomas Jefferson all share another key accomplishment:

Each one studied and/or practiced law before they became US presidents.

In honor of Presidents Day, we’ll take a look at these three presidents and 22 others who progressed from reading law books to leading a country.

Famous US Lawyer-Presidents

Some of the US presidents who got their start in law are also among the most well-known. Although he never actually attended law school, Abraham Lincoln may well be one of the most famous lawyer-presidents. Lincoln was a self-taught attorney who learned all he needed to successfully practice by reading the law books and legal codes of the times.

Another famous early president, Andrew Jackson, also entered the legal profession as a self-taught lawyer.

Other US lawyer-presidents include Franklin Roosevelt, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton. Barack Obama follows in the footsteps of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president, as the second Harvard law graduate to make his way to the Oval Office. The Wall Street Journal provides a complete list of US presidents who came from a legal background.

How Law and Politics Go Hand-in-Hand

The fact that more than half of the US presidents have been involved in the law prior to taking office brings up the question: Why does legal experience serve as such a strong starting point for those interested in entering politics?

It’s not only future presidents who seem to benefit — many other politicians, from Rudy Giuliani to Hillary Clinton, hold law degrees. In practical terms, a legal career can set the stage for a political career by permitting a person to build a powerful reputation and make the right contacts — people who can help fund political campaigns down the line.

However, successful lawyers must also master certain skills that can be invaluable to the difficult job of US president. Logical thinking and reasoning abilities, the ability to build an effective argument and excellent speaking skills are all necessary traits of a great lawyer — and can all come in handy for a president, too!

Law School Dropouts & Other Paths to the White House

Although a majority of past US presidents — 25 out of 44 — have come from a background in the law, this doesn’t mean that a law degree is required to become president.

You can even become president if you’re a law school dropout, as demonstrated Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt. Truman studied law at the University of Missouri-Kansas School of Law, then called Kansas City Law School, but never earned a degree, while Roosevelt studied law at Columbia without ever completing his degree.

Many other presidents have come from a political background — for example, formerly holding a state office. George W. Bush’s pedigree included a stint as governor of Texas and an MBA. In fact, Bush was the first US president to hold an MBA.

While we may see more future leaders with business degrees, it’s highly likely that many more US presidents will have studied law.

Do you think that having experience as a lawyer helps a US president — or are some traits better left out of politics?

Trump Announces 'Patriotic Education' Commission, A Largely Political Move

President Trump holds a Constitution Day proclamation after speaking Thursday during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

President Trump holds a Constitution Day proclamation after speaking Thursday during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In austere, starkly divisive remarks, President Trump on Thursday said he would create a commission to promote "patriotic education" and announced the creation of a grant to develop a "pro-American curriculum." The move is largely political — a reaction to a growing push by some academics for schools to teach an American history that better acknowledges slavery and systemic racism.

In the speech, Trump decried what he said was a "twisted web of lies" being taught in U.S. classrooms about systemic racism in America, calling it "a form of child abuse." He reprised themes from a speech he gave in July at Mount Rushmore.

"Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse, the truest sense," Trump said. "For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans' silence for weakness. They're wrong. There is no more powerful force than a parent's love for their children. And patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country."

The federal government does not have jurisdiction over school curriculum.

Trump decried "a radical movement" working against telling a more flattering version of U.S. history as Democrats' efforts to smear the country for political gain.


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The president's remarks reflect a growing outcry among Republicans against recent moves to tell a more evenhanded version of the nation's history, including its early foundational reliance on slave labor and the longtime disenfranchisement of and systemic racism against racial minorities.

In particular, Republicans have taken offense to The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning "1619 Project," which detailed the country's history from when the first enslaved Africans were brought to America's shores.

"Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country," the president said Thursday.

Trump said schools need to focus instead on "the legacy of 1776," when American Colonies declared independence from Great Britain. The newly formed committee, Trump said, will be called the "1776 Commission" — a further dig at The Times' project.

"American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square," Trump said.

Trump blamed "the left," aided by the media and unnamed corporations, for "a vicious and violent assault on law enforcement" and said violent protests in recent months "are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools."

In a shot at his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump said he would add a statue of Caesar Rodney to the National Garden of American Heroes park — a proposal he first made in his Mount Rushmore speech.

A statue of Rodney, a slave owner who signed the Declaration of Independence, was removed from Wilmington, Del., this summer amid protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Trump criticized Biden for not speaking out about it.

Statues paying homage to the Confederacy and other slave owners and racists have been among the most divisive issues in Trump's ongoing culture war against Democrats.

Following his remarks, the phrases "Trump Youth" and "Hitler Youth" trended on Twitter, with some likening the president's new education project to the indoctrination of young people in Nazi Germany.

Best known for: Being impeached for dismissing his secretary of War. His entire administration was plagued by strife stemming from Civil War reconstruction efforts.

Overall rank: 44th.

Best category: 34th, willingness to take risks.

Worst categories: 44th, party leadership, communication and court appointments.

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Rich history of U.S. presidents and sports

With one of the most time-consuming jobs in America, and arguably the world, time for leisurely activities like sports, is hard to come by for the president of the United States.

From George Washington to George W. Bush, these men have worked around the clock, leading the United States and making important policy decisions.

But many of those commander in chiefs have managed to fit in physical activity of some sort.

Many of the earlier presidents were avid walkers and horseback riders, rightfully so, as other means of transportation were scarce. Other physical activities that our earlier leaders took part in range from Abraham Lincoln’s wrestling to Teddy Roosevelt’s days of boxing and Ju-Jitsu, a martial art.

Some of our 19th-century presidents spent their free time playing croquet (Rutherford B. Hayes) or at the billiard tables (John Q. Adams, Chester A. Arthur and James Garfield).

Franklin Roosevelt had an indoor pool installed in the White House. The pool served as a form of therapy for the president, who was suffering from polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The room where the pool was located now serves as the current press briefing room. The remnants of the pool are under the floor of the press room and serve as a crawl space for electronics.

A century later, the image of the presidency had changed.

With the advancements in photography and TV, U.S. presidents were under pressure to keep up their physical abilities. People now saw them more often.

Staying physically active is essential for politicians, especially U.S. presidents and other high-ranking officials at both the national and local level, said Matt Ryan, mayor of the city of Binghamton.

“It is important to set an example to show that you are active and are capable of preventing illness,” Ryan said.

Ryan, who swims for a half hour every morning beginning at 6:30 a.m., said that politicians can be role models as leaders by staying physically fit.

And that is what recent presidents have done.

The latest trend, for those who seek the presidency and those who have sat behind the Resolute desk of the Oval Office, is to stay physically fit.

Most notably are the men who have resided in the White House since the 1960s.

At 43 years, 7 months and 22 days old, John F. Kennedy was youngest man elected President.

As a young president, Kennedy stayed physically fit, actively swimming, sailing and playing football.

Following Kennedy’s tragic death, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became president and spent his free time fishing and hunting. Richard Nixon was spotted many times at the bowling alley in the White House basement. He also took up golf.

But probably one of the best-known presidents with links to sports was Gerald Ford.

Way before his tenure as president of the United States, Ford was a star athlete and captain of his high school football team in Grand Rapids, Mich. His talent on the field in high school turned the heads of college recruiters.

Ford, who played center and linebacker for the University of Michigan football team, helped the Wolverines capture national titles in 1932 and 1933, finishing with undefeated seasons.

As an instructor at the Naval pre-flight school in North Carolina, Ford coached all nine sports offered including swimming, boxing and football.

During his presidency, while attending a summit in the Soviet Union, Ford requested to be woken up to find out the score of a Michigan-Ohio State football game. He even had the U.S. Naval band play the fight song from his alma mater, “The Victors,” prior to state events instead of “Hail to the Chief,” the anthem of the president of the United States.

As for his physical ventures during his time in office, Ford was an avid swimmer, golfer and jogger. He had an outdoor pool build on the White House grounds in 1975. But despite his athleticism, Ford had a reputation as quite the klutz, exemplified when he tripped while walking down the stairs after disembarking from Air Force One.

Ford helped set the standard for future presidents, particularly his successor, Jimmy Carter.

During his youth, Carter played basketball in high school. But during his time as the 39th president, Carter spent much of his available time jogging. When not jogging or attending to his presidential duties, Carter was found on the tennis courts or out canoeing, fishing or skiing. He also followed predecessor Ford and swam from time to time.

Before he was an actor, Ronald Reagan, at age 15, was a lifeguard. As one of his favorite pastimes, Reagan frequently swam. Reagan reportedly saved 77 lives as a lifeguard, a testament to his physical ability.

George H. W. Bush also has a rich history in sports.

The elder Bush captained both the varsity baseball and soccer teams during his time at Phillips Academy, a private prep school several miles north of Boston, Mass. While at Yale, Bush captained the baseball team. The left-handed first baseman played in the first two College World Series, the NCAA Division I tournament. Yale lost in both of those world series. Bush met Babe Ruth in 1948 before a game during his senior year.

Ruth died later that year.

“Forty-One,” a nickname bestowed on him by his son, spends time boating and fishing. He also golfs, jogs and plays tennis.

Bill Clinton was known during his presidency for wanting to run on the National Mall. While studying at Oxford, Clinton played rugby. During his time in the White House, Clinton relieved his stress by hitting the links. Even after his presidency, Clinton still finds time to get to a golf course.

Our current president, George W. Bush, is one of the best combinations of sports and politics.

Besides playing baseball in high school, Bush bought $800,000 worth of shares of the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team, in April 1989.

Bush served as managing general partner for five years, when in 1994 he was elected Governor of Texas. During his time as a partner, Bush actively led several projects and regularly attended the team’s games, where he often chose to sit in the stands with fans. He sold his shares for over $15 million in 1998 after being reelected to a second term as the governor.

During the past eight years as president, Bush has been a dedicated runner and mountain biker. According to special behind-the-scenes video extra in “The Sentinel,” a 2006 movie, during Bush’s campaign for the White House in 2000, the Secret Service had to find agents that were able to keep up with him when he went running.

Bush’s love for mountain biking has led him to help mountain bikers gain access to national parks.

Even the current presidential candidates have histories with sports.

Republican candidate Sen. John McCain earned two varsity letters in wrestling during high school. He also played on the junior varsity football team and the tennis team.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, is an avid basketball player and has often been spotted playing basketball with members of the U.S. Armed Forces and college basketball players while on the campaign trail.

Whether it was just getting away from the Oval Office or looking for a good time in the pool, at the driving range or jogging the trails of Camp David, the few men that have graced the grand halls of the White House as president of the United States have found the time to involve sports in their lives.

Whatever their reasons may be, for Binghamton’s mayor, sports have taught him a lot about focus and discipline.

“I always thought sports were important to keep up your discipline in both mind and body,” Ryan said.

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