Polski3's View from Here

Quote of some personal revelence: "Is a dream a lie, that don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Monday, August 08, 2005

"US History: Our Worse Subject" How Come ?

At the end of June, a US Senate hearing was held regarding a proposed bill, S 860, "The American History Achievement Act". This proposed legislature, introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), seeks to authorize a 10-state pilot study to provide state-by-state comparison of US History and civics test data for 8th and 12 grades administered by the National Assessment of Education Progress.

The senate hearing heard testimony from several people, including the well-known and highly regarded historian, David McCullough. McCullough cited the negative impact of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative on teaching of history, because of NCLB's emphasis on language arts and math. McCullough also noted that too many "history teachers" in US public schools were NOT history majors, they majored in "education" and did not necessarily communicate a "love of history" to their students. He complained that textbooks were boring the kids to death and turning them off to history due to most history textbooks being written in a dry, data heavy format instead of a "narrative format.

I find much of what Mr. McCullough says to be true. However, I believe there are other factors in students lack of interest in the subject of history. I find that for most of the students entering my classroom in seventh grade, they have had very little exposure to history in their elementary school years. California mandates that Grade 4 is California History, Grade 5 is Early US History and Grade 6 is Early World History. But it is not being taught. Trying to get the kids to score higher on their math and language arts tests is more important than including history (and science, art, music and P.E) for the upper elementary students of my school district. "They are not tested in History" is what I have heard from several of these upper elementary teachers. YES THEY ARE. They are tested in US and World History Standards in Grade 8. This is also largely due to mandates from our district office. YOU TEACHERS better bring up those damn test scores, or else!

Most schools have also accepted the politically correct/alternative minority viewpoint of history. There are US history textbooks that will go on and on about things in our past such as slavery and what women did to help win the American Revolution. Yes, these are a part of our history, but they are intentionally neglecting things done by "dead males of European descent". Check out the historical novels published in the past ten years and in your school libraries; lots of novels about slavery and women in history. Is there an equivalent series of books for boys like the "American Girls" series? Are there any newer books for young people about George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Any of the major military events of our history? Not that I am aware of.

Also, it has been at least ten years since I have been allowed out of my classroom to attend a professional history teaching conference. And then,I attended a Calif. League of Middle Schools Conference because it was on a Saturday and I was a presenter (Presentation on inclusion of science in teaching American History). Teachers of History need the opportunities for professional growth in our subject too.

Many of my students also do not have parents who offer them opportunities to visit historical places. Within a 200 mile radius of my home, we have the various Spanish missions of Southern California, Cabrillo National Monument, Hoover Dam, The Yuma Crossing, Yuma Territorial Prison (AZ.) State Park, various traveling exhibits at museums in LA, Orange Co., San Diego etc., (for example, there are currently two exhibits dealing with Ancient Egypt, on in LA and one with real mummies at a museum in Orange County). Informal polling of my students indicates that 95% of them have never been to any of these places, or often, have never heard of them. They have been to many of the amusement parks in Southern California. Parents will spend $500 for a family trip to Magic Mountain, but not a dime to visit historical places. These parents will buy/rent intellectually retarding videos/dvds and electronic games for their kids; heaven forbid they take them to a public library to check out books about history (or anything else) [Does your local public library not have a bunch of videos/dvd's for its patrons to borrow? Mine does.]

I believe this intentional neglect of our history by public schools, the growth of political correctness when history is 'taught' and the emphasis on minority involvement to the neglect of the majority involvement in US History has been a factor in the decision by many parents to home school their children.

In recent years, I have taught grade 7 "World History" in California. California has these massive frameworks for most Grade 7-12 subjects. Grade 7 World History is basically the history of the world (except Antarctica) in the "middle ages." We are currently limited to one (crappy, IMO) principle textbook called "Across the Centuries". IMNSHO, no real teacher of history relies solely on the text; I have games we play (ie: Medieval trade: Silk Road Adventure), "IF you were there" situations, Choosing Your Way Through History" activities and a host of other non-text centered learning activities. Realistically, it is not impossible to cover ALL of the standards California has imposed for Grade 7 history teachers. But I do try to make history interesting for my students.

Thanks for reading my blog. Your comments and thoughts on this topic are welcome and appreciated.