My year of birth is 1981 and I went to school in Switzerland.
I think you hit the problematic nail on the proverbial head: Attention span and learning by heart a bunch of dates.
See, I don't know whether an abstracted simulation of historical and social events is a good tool but let's not act like our schools (there are exceptions, of course) did a swell job of teaching us much of true interest.
I feel like I had to go over the Roman empire three or four times. My wife has similar trauma with the French revolution. However, nobody ever took the time to actually, truly teach what led to them and what consequences they had. Hell, in geography we had to mark rivers and towns and cities... Had they tied that in with history it might actually have led to an understanding of WHY our world is the way it is. Hell, rather than rivers they should have taught us about highways, at least that way we'd have some practical use for the knowledge.
It's good to know that hills were made by glaciers but that one sentence would have been enough information in that regard.
We had to become adults and be interested in history to learn that Celts weren't actually barbarians enlightened by the Roman empire but rather were providing fine jewelry and soaps on a quality level the Romans had a hard time achieving. And these were the people who were our forefathers. Instead we glorified the conquerors.
We had to find out much later that while the French revolution was, more or less, the founding of todays understanding of democracy and the people's power, the people leading it were just as much opportunistic aristocrats as the ones who ended up on the guillotine (and nobody ever told us how many innocents were killed that way either!).
It's the same thing with people like Magellan or your very own Columbus. So much of what we were taught about these people was so very wrong it's appalling.
Frankly, I believe we should take kids when they enter school, show them how google works an ask them to tell us their opinion (!) on how much their book might be wrong about certain events in history.
Children are so very inquisitive and they can be like freaking drug sniffing dogs when they feel they're being lied to. Let's use that! It'll teach them to gather information and build an opinion just as much as how to question that which kinda feels too comfortable to be the absolute truth.