Showing posts with label Curriculum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curriculum. Show all posts

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Teaching State History: Point/Counterpoint

Well, I’ve been walking around all weekend with with my head in my hands mainly due to my head swelling in response to a wonderful set of comments sent my way by Florida School Boss:

History Is Elementary is the best curriculum blog I have ever visited. If the teacher is as good in the classroom as she is in putting together her blog, she is an excellent teacher. She teaches Georgia and US History to upper elementary kids. Her blog has amazing articles, many with pictures, that provide great content background in US History as well as Georgia-specific history.

I appreciate your comments very, very much FSB. Can I use you as a reference some day?

However, my head was also plagued with a headache due to the remainder of FSB’s post which responded to my question, Is State History Important?, a post I wrote in July. FSB said:

One of my concerns about spending much time on Florida history, or any state history, is that the focus tends to get widened, usually due to lobbying by various interests in the state. So do kids really need to know the history of tourism in Florida? Are Mickey and Shamu really historical figures? What about the mandated survey of agriculture that happens in every state history course, no matter where in the country you happen to live? Gimme a break.

FSB...thanks for buttering me up before heaving a knife in my chest. :)

The loud windy noise you head on Friday around 4 p.m. coming from the western region of Georgia was me letting go with a heavy, heavy sigh after I read FSB's take on the teaching of state history.

Matthew Tabor instantly weighed in with his response, In Defense of Teaching State and Local History, while my response has been delayed due to that swollen and throbbing head I spoke of above, and the fact that I have tried to refrain from blogging on the weekend, so my family can see a different mommie… without a laptap attached to her fingers constantly.

The time gave me pause to think about the points I had made earlier, FSB’s points, and Matthew Tabor’s point of view as well. Educators should always begin examining a curriculum concern by heading straight to his or her standards (teaching objectives), and I’ve done that today, but before addressing standards I’m starting with FSB’s comments first.

It seems that one of FSB’s concerns about a year of state history, generally taught in eighth grade in many states, is he grew up in Indiana where he became an “expert” in Indiana history yet ended up spending his career in Florida. I have no clue to FSB’s academic area of expertise, however, unless he majored in Indiana history in college I don’t believe he could be considered an expert due to one year’s participation in an eighth grade history course. FSB, if I understand your logic with this point, you feel that since we don’t know the future plans of our young students a course of state history is irrelevant. People grow up and move making state history irrelevant. Is this correct?

I’m glad that curriculum experts across the country don’t follow that way of thinking. If they did I would have never been taught any Geometry. I can state emphatically I have never had to solve a geometric proof in any of the three careers I’ve had since my teen years. Throw out the reading of Poe, Melville, and Whitman because students who might grow up to be policemen really have no use for early American literature. Perhaps we should delete teaching students Linnaean Taxonomy because very few ever have to know the species, genus, family, etc. of every animal they encounter.

FSB mentioned several items covered in Indiana state history….the French trading history along Indiana’s river towns, General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, the automotive industry in Indiana, Cole Porter, Indiana high school basketball, corn, soybeans… that seem to be relevant only if you plan to make Indiana your home.

Let’s see….my fourth graders learn about river exploration and trade by the French during our explorers unit, and while we discuss the Spanish settlement along Georgia’s barrier islands and DeSoto’s jaunt through Georgia they receive another view again in eighth grade. Good old “Mad Anthony” Wayne makes an appearance in my classroom simply because he’s a great item of interest during a look a the American Revolution, and if I taught Social Studies in Indiana you bet I would add in Indiana’s automotive industry when discussing assembly lines and Henry Ford since I discuss Georgia’s own automotive industry when we get to the 1920s. Some details aren’t so unique to a particular state when you get right down to it.

Matthew Tabor’s response to the question of relevancy regarding unique details for a particular state zeroed in on an important point regarding state history:

Understanding New York State history as a student in its public schools prepared me for precisely the irrelevance that you seem to deride. I’m not a young schoolboy anymore, but throughout my adult life – during college and beyond – when I encounter unfamiliar history, I have a very easy time grasping it quickly because I can perform comparative analysis. Though I have never spent any time in Indiana, I suspect that I could have profitable, enjoyable conversations with its residents – or, in your case, a former resident.

I believe this should be the whole point for having a history course at the eighth grade level that takes into account state history details filtered through an American History framework. Eighth grade students are ready to take on American History with a different perspective…that of the state. I believe it is relevant to teach students unique details concerning their state because as they move into more sophistocated courses for Economics, Political Science, Geography, World and American History they do have something to compare and contrast with. For example, why should my Georgia students even care about the War for Texas Independence? Sure, it explains to them how Texas eventually wound up as part of the U.S. and their map finally begins to look a little more like the map they see today, but as some students say to me….so what? Little ears perk up when I tell them that Texas Independence was won with the help of several Georgians who volunteered to help Texas, and a young Georgia girl is credited with giving the state their Lone Star flag.

FSB seems concerned with spending “much time” on state history, but I don’t consider an entire year devoted to details of state history to be “much”. A quick look at Georgia’s Social Studies Standards which go into effect this year indicates the following: Grade K mainly examine symbols of America and holidays, first graders learn about American heroes, third graders begin an early look at Georgia history by learning about prominent figures in Georgia history and take a gander at the Creek and Cherokee tribes in relation to how those tribes obtain their food, shelter, and clothing from the regional resources. Fourth and Fifth grades follow a full blown course of study in American History with the Civil War being the dividing line between the two grade levels. Sixth and Seventh grade Social Studies examines regions of the world by discussing the history, economics, geography, and political systems in each region.

Early elementary curriculum focuses on basic skills and basic content in order to give students a foundation to link to the much broader course of study in the fourth and fifth grades. The World History curriculum of sixth and seventh grades also serve as a foundation for content that will become even broader in high school while the eighth grade combined state and American History course addes a new perspective while reviewing basic content before high school American History.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post any educator knows to always go to the standards when a curriculum question arises and so I did. Here are the standards for eighth grade Social Studies standards in Georgia as well as eighth grade Florida standards Notice that both courses follow an outline of American History. The standards that deal with Florida specifically are somewhat broad while Georgia’s standards are more specific noting people, places, battles etc. that the instructor should make mention of regarding state history.

So I believe it all comes down to the words “relative details” that FSB and I might disagree on. He states it isn’t important that Florida students know who Brevard, Duval, or Broward are, however, Flagler and Oscelola might hold relevance. I can see his point, however, I'm not sure why Duval wouldn't be mentioned when discussing how Florida became a territory and when looking at Native American relations with the influx of settlers under Duval's guidance. I also believe Broward deserves a mention when discussing U.S. and Cuban relations during their efforts in gaining independence from Spain since Broward and his ship The Three Friends played a role.

Certain key people are important. I believe Georgia students should know Oglethorpe by name since he is given credit as organizing the Georgia colony, however, it is no longer important for students to name every governor of the state or other various details that can now be retrieved as needed from various information sources including the Internet.

Social Studies has moved beyond name the explorer who, what year, and locate on a map type of assessments. We want students to be able to think critically about what they are learning and to connect their learning to details they haved learned in the past whether they are life long residents of a particular state or not.

I’ll admit if I was teaching state history I would prefer Georgia standards over Florida’s since they are specific as to the Georgia content that should be infused. It makes the guessing game regarding what is relevant according to state test makers much easier especially for the unfortunate teacher who moves in from another state and must take a self-directed crash course regarding state history.

It would also seem that after reading this article and after going directly to the standards my headache regarding FSB’s post has subsided. Eighth grade teachers in Florida are receiving assistance with relevant details to add in regarding Florida state history, and I would bet they receive some sort of assistance from the Florida State Education Department regarding state history details that should part of a basic framework for Florida state history….at least I hope so.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is State History Being Erased?

I saw an article the other day from Teacher Magazine online via the Associated Press called Arkansas Historians Upset Over Curriculum. It caused me concern. Even though state law requires the teaching of state history, Arkansas educrats have proposed a new framework for teaching history that eradicates a major chunk of curriculum.

The article states:

Tom Dillard, president of the Arkansas History Education Coalition, suggested Saturday that the new guidelines for social studies, approved by the state Education Board this year, violate a 1997 state law on teaching Arkansas history and effectively reverse the group's effort of at least the last 20 years to incorporate the subject into school curricula.

The [state] board [of education] …[wishes to] combine social studies and Arkansas history into one subject for kindergartners through sixth graders and [wants to require] the teaching of world history in seventh and eight grades, typically when Arkansas history is taught.

Dillard noted that the 10-year-old state law, adopted he said after the state Education Department failed to follow through on a promise to beef up Arkansas history instruction in the schools, requires that schools teach a unit of Arkansas history as a social studies subject at each elementary grade "with greater emphasis at the fourth and fifth grade levels."

In addition, he said, the schools must teach a full semester of Arkansas history to students between the seventh and 12th grades.

A one year moratorium has been set that will keep the framework from being implemented, while the educrats and Arkansas historians fight this out. It got me to thinking, however, if educrats can attempt to do this in Arkansas, they can try to do it in my own home state of Georgia. I hope not, but since we already see a watering down of history in the schools due to testing concerns over English/Language Arts and Math, I can’t help but wonder what’s next.

In a society where we have many transient students would state history matter to them? Would any of the students benefit from it? Is the teaching of state history wasted time?

I think not as long as teachers are competent in their subject matter and capable of knowing their own weak areas in the content, so they can beef up their knowledge. State history is American history. The story is simply told from the view point of the state where the students live. It should not only be told from a textbook, but rather from the resources of the state itself. Students should be taking numerous fieldtrips during their state history course to see the wonderful historic sites their own state has to offer, and lessons should be design in such a way to allow students to discover much of the content themselves.

The goals of teaching state history are and should be no different from teaching a broader American History course. Students should acquire skills, knowledge, and values necessary to make decisions as informed decisions in a culturally diverse democratic nation and interdependent world, or as the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) states students should acquire civic competance.

But why state history? Can’t they get that from a regular American History course?

In an article published in the OAH Magazine of History titled Teaching State History: Anacronism or Opportunity, Rhoda R.Gilman proposes that state history is a natural place for demonstrating the interplay between the individual and the universal. To leave out state history is to leave the student in a vacuum where no recognition is made to the local area and its contribution to the American story. State history is the perfect vehicle to allow students to see how an area is directly involved with changes over time.

Any move to waterdown or delete the teaching of state history attacks state identity. During his farewell address in 1989 President Ronald Reagan had the teaching of history on his mind. He said the country had been failing to adequately teach children the American story and what it represents in the history of the world. “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion, but what’s important. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately in an erosion of the American spirit.”

State history is part of that American memory, and it should not be eradicated or left to those who are less informed to merely weave into other curricular areas. By the time students reach middle school teaching state history should not be something done as an "Oh, by the way", or as a "tack on" activity. Older students are capable of seeing far more than most think, and are able to keep up with a large cast of characters and various viewpoints. It is the perfect time to teach the American story from the state’s viewpoint. It is simply one more layer of schema for children as they progress towards their high school years.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Utilize Those Resources

Any social studies teacher understands the importance of teaching about resources. I discuss resources----human, capital, and physical/natural----everyday in my room. The quest for resources and how we use them are at the heart of any historical event we study.

One of the reasons why Japan attacked the United States in 1941 boiled down to their need for oil. They felt our presence in the Pacific hindered them from getting what they needed. When the Spanish began their conquest of Mexico and South America they understood the need for a large labor force to man their gold and silver mines so they used the labor resource that was available, the indigenous population. Criminals and terrorists the world over have become very savvy in their need to legitimize their financial transactions and use our own laws to maintain bona fide companies that are mere fronts for nefarious activities. I guess you could say our quest for resources is what generates historical events.

One of the things I am often amazed at as an educator is the amount of resources that go untapped and unused in our own buildings. Children with enormous potential choose to do enough simply to get by and fail to use the talents that we all strive for but was theirs at birth. Teachers resist new programs and strategies simply because they are removed from their comfort zone. The software, the books, the seminar manuals all sit unused in the classroom until they are eventually placed on some dusty shelf in a closet or book room. The saying is true---out of sight, out of mind. Administrators often overlook tremendous human potential they have in their buildings as they recommend the same few people for committees and conferences or to develop solutions to real problems. There is a myriad list of reasons why this is done but it is never good for the performance of the school.

An Atlanta area high school went from last to third place in the state’s standardized writing test district scores all because a principal asked someone in the building for help, and that person analyzed the resources available to her. She discovered a writing program that had simply sat unused. By simply going out of the box and utilizing a forgotten resource her school ended up with motivated students and teachers, a beaming administrator, and scores to be proud of.

My happy dance of summer is almost up as I have to return to school for pre-planning on July 24th. As I begin to attempt to ramp up my mindset to “teacher” mode again, I am making a call for all educators to check out your resources. Take stock of your classroom and that dark hole of a book room down the hall. What is lying around that could be utilized to challenge you and your students for the coming year?

Are you already in possession of the one thing that could turn your program around and you don’t even realize it?

You can access Eschool News here for the article about Therrell High in Atlanta.