Arkansas historians criticize Governor's endorsement of social studies

Historians in the News

Gov. Mike Beebe expressed support Monday for the state's new public school social studies curriculum, which some Arkansas historians say shortchanges the teaching of state history.

Spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday that Beebe won't back the Arkansas History Education Coalition's call for a one-year moratorium of the new curriculum. The governor also refused to create a special committee to study the revision process.

Beebe believes the new curriculum, which incorporated previously freestanding elementary Arkansas history requirements into the larger social studies curriculum, gives students a better grasp of the link between state and national historical events, DeCample said.

"The Department of Education put a lot of work into these guidelines, and the idea is to let them go into effect and see how they work for us," DeCample said.

The Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks define what students must know in major subject areas such as math, English and science. Individual school districts design their curricula based on the frameworks. Arkansas Department of Education officials must revise all frameworks at least every six years. The new social studies frameworks go into effect this fall.

Beebe's decision came two days after the coalition and a number of other disgruntled educators requested his support at a Saturday news conference in Little Rock.

They claim the new frameworks will water down Arkansas history instruction in two ways: The new frameworks combine the study of social studies and Arkansas history at the elementary level; previously, there were separate frameworks for each. The group believes teachers will stop teaching Arkansas history at the elementary level because the standalone frameworks no longer exist. Social studies and Arkansas history frameworks are separate at the secondary level. But critics say new world history demands in junior high school force schools to bump a required one-semester Arkansas history course to high school.

Because Arkansas history isn't a graduation requirement, the educators argue few students will take the course. Plus, there are no existing Arkansas history texts written specifically for high school students, they claim.

Jeannie Whayne, chairman of the history department at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said Monday that she was surprised and disappointed with how quickly Beebe reached his decision....

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Mari Serebrov - 7/26/2007

As a former Arkansas resident, I am disappointed by Gov. Beebe's and the Department of Education's abandonment of a freestanding Arkansas history requirement. One of the excuses is that there is no textbook. The state often contracts for specialized curriculum and had plenty of time to do so for this important topic.
What the opponents of a freestanding course do not understand is the benefits a well-thought-out program can bring to the classroom and the state. Through Arkansas history, teachers could help students explore regional differences, enhance their understanding of the various cultures that gave birth to the state, encourage their love for reading, and establish a deep-seated connection to the state.
For instance, I was born and raised -- for the most part -- in Illinois. But I attended fourth grade in Pennsylvania, where I had to take a Pennsylvania history class. That class not only awakened my love for history but gave me a closer tie to Pennsylvania than I ever felt for Illinois.
I had a similar experience when I moved to Arkansas and researched a biography of W.H. Arnold of Arkansas. The time spent on that research gave me a deep appreciation for my adopted state. And, even though I have moved on, I will always consider Arkansas home -- because of my exposure to its history.