The first sentence of your last paragraph is probably a correct diagnosis. No doubt
it's still being taught that way at the college level, but that's certainly not the way
it's taught in elementary and secondary schools. Let him know that art history is
taught in the context of visual analysis before beginning a studio art project.
Students may not be getting a complete and sequential art history curriculum, but
they're being exposed to art and artists from many cultures and time periods.
In my HS class, it's reversed. After reading, discussing, viewing slides, and taking
notes, we have a hands-on project to reinforce the book stuff (we just finished mummy
cases in which they depicted their lives in the Egyptian style. I'm sure they'll never
forget the Egyptian conventions for portraying people, nor writing "captions" in
Calm down, have some tea, and pity the poor guy.