Blogs > Cliopatria > Crisis in History? Again?

Nov 14, 2004 12:15 am

Crisis in History? Again?

The National Council for History Education, Inc.'s"Special Election Issue" newsletter arrived here (yesterday; to their credit, it got here a day before the NEA newsletter endorsing Kerry), and included a call for signatures on a petition produced by NCHE trustees Rabb and Hollinshead at the request of"a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators concerned about the state of history instruction in our schools." The petition reads:

Whereas, to quote Senator Lamar Alexander,"American history is our children's worst subject";
Whereas, to quote the 1988 report of the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools:
"History belongs in the school programs of all students, regardless of the academic standing and preparation,... because it provides the only avenue we have to reach an understanding of ourselves and of our society.
Without such understanding, the two foremost aims of American education will not be achieved -- the preparation of all our people for private lives of personal integrity and fulfillment, and their preparation for public life as democratic citizens"
; and
Whereas, to address this problem and this need, two major shortcomings of America's educational system--
  • (a) the inadequate time given to history instruction, especially in the early grades; and
  • (b) the inadequate training in content demanded of teachers of history;
--require urgent attention;
We, the undersigned, many of us members of the National Council for History Education (the sole nation-wide membership organization devoted to the improvement of the teaching of history in our schools), submit this statement on the CRISIS IN HISTORY in order to urge the Congress of the United States to expand on the Teaching American History initiative and Senate Bill 2721, the American History Achievement Act, by taking the following steps:
  • 1. Given the emphasis on Reading in the No Child Left Behind legislation, we recommend the adoption of guidelines to ensure that the texts used to teach reading include a substantial proportion of biographies and other works of history;
  • 2. Given the excellent History curricula that have been adopted in a number of States, we recommend that, as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind legislation, States and localities (the determiners of educational policy) be encouraged to adopt substantial requirements for the teaching of history in the first eight grades; and
  • 3. Given the success of the Teaching American History initiative and Senate Bill 2721, the American History Achievement Act, in improving the preparation of teachers of history, we recommend:
    • (i) that both these programs be expanded;
    • (ii) that funds be provided for all States to offer such programs; and
    • (iii) that funds be provided for all Schools of Education to offer intensive preparation in the content of History as part of the education of teachers of history.
To sign, go here. I'm still undecided, myself. I haven't really seen any evaluations of the Teaching American History track record or commentary on the American History Achievement Act that would make me think these are models of anything except opportunities to practice grant-writing for educational administrators and administrator-wannabes. Don't get me wrong: we are nowhere close to spending too much money on history education; but if we're going to get dribs and drabs, I want them going right into the highest-return possible channels. I'm also not an Americanist, and as much as I agree that American students should study American history, the state of world history instruction at the pre-college level makes the US curriculum look like a shining beacon of hope; this doesn't address this at all, not even by implication. Finally, I believe that the NCHE strategy of leveraging NCLB towards history is fundamentally flawed, both for history specifically and for education generally.

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 11/14/2004

There's no political cover in non-US history; it's an orphan at this point. This process is highly political: it was initiated by senators looking for support for an initiative, and the end result will be a petition which can be waved at wavering politicos.

At the graduate level, even at the undergraduate level, there's a good argument to be made for international studies as a component of economic and political citizenship and strategic need. But world history at the primary and secondary level is going to be wearing a "liberal internationalist" label for the forseeable future.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/13/2004

I had read the "Crisis" message earlier today. I had not noticed the implied emphasis on American History. If that was intended, your points are well taken indeed.

I am also ambivalent about using NCLB, largely because I am ambivaltent about the "test from hell" approach to judging the quality of education. It probably is useful in picking out the horrible schols and forcing improvement, and that is no small thing. But I fear, that it may do so at the cost of encouraging mediocrity elsewhere.

I guess in the end I support the petition. If creating standards strengthens funding for improving history education, that is good. If pushing for history standards helps underscore the flaws of the testing standards in NCLB, that is also good.

But to return to your point, they should have included non-US history in that petition.