Egregious Examples of Sloppy Thinking Mar Georgia's New History Standards

Roundup: Talking About History

Clifford Kuhn, professor of history at Georgia State University, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jan. 30, 2004):

As a scholar of American history, as a professor to many teachers-in-the-making and as a parent of two children who have gone through the public schools, I have a deep, abiding interest in how history and social studies are taught and learned.

Accordingly, I'm disturbed by various aspects of the recently announced proposed state standards for social studies. In addition to their often dubious ideological underpinnings and associated teaching exercises, many of the standards suffer from unclear, sloppy phrasing and just bad history.

For instance, Standard SS8.33 for the eighth-grade unit on "Reconstruction and the New South" reads, "The student will identify events in Georgia and the South that denied African-Americans their newly won rights and explain why these changes occurred, including Jim Crow legislation, terrorism and Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 ('separate but equal' doctrine)."

This is an unexceptionable, even commendable goal. Yet, one of the three tasks associated with the standard has students "research the anti-lynching legislation passed during this period of history and the events that made this action necessary."

Which legislation are we talking about? Despite the efforts of the NAACP and others from the 1920s forward (a period well past the late 19th century time frame of the unit, by the way), Congress, let alone state legislatures, never passed an anti-lynch law. On the contrary, in Georgia and elsewhere, local and state officials often were complicit in lynchings. So the assignment is completely meaningless....

While it may be unfair to pick apart a couple of egregious cases, and while in some respects the proposed standards do mark an improvement over the existing curricular objectives, ... [the above example] -- and many others -- make one cringe at what might be taught (or not taught) should the standards as written be adopted.

It behooves teachers, students and scholars of history, and all concerned Georgians to carefully review and critique the standards over the next few months, so that our children might best appreciate history and most fruitfully engage with the past.

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