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?"

Friday, September 26, 2008

History Deficient

In a way, what I am now doing is killing me. Not in a physical sense of dying, but in a......some other way in which that part of you tries to.....I don't quite know the words. But, it is not "teaching to the standards" that is getting to me. Its dealing with, I don't know quite how to phrase it, "everything they just don't know" but need to have to fully grasp of the history I am teaching them.

For example, we are teaching about Rome. But, we start at the beginning. We start where our "state standard" begins, with the Decline and Fall, then go on to the Contributions of Rome, then end with a tiny bit of the 1000 year history of the Byzantine Empire. BUT, they don't know about Romulus and Remus. Or the Aeneid. Or the twelve tables of Roman Law. Some don't even know where "Italy" is located. Or the bodies of water surrounding the Italian Peninsula. Or what a peninsula is. Or even that Europe is one of the continents. Some have heard of someone called "Hannibal," but they think he is some psycho murder with the surname of Lecter. Gaul? Punic Wars? Nope, they've never heard of these.

We have been told to just try to teach OUR grade levels standards. But, without some knowledge of past civilizations and empires, dealing with the Decline and Fall of Rome is more difficult, less relevant, less interesting to them.

Two years ago, before the "teach to the standards of your grade level" frenzy hit us grade seven history teachers, I spent about nine to ten weeks teaching, well, not really teaching in depth, but surveying Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ancient Greece, Early Rome and Ancient China. In short, a very modified version of the Grade Six State of California Social Studies Standards. And, the results showed up in our State Standards Tests from last Spring. We were told by administration that our Eighth Graders scored "the highest" on the material related to the Grade 6 and 7 Standards. Cool. It paid off, so to speak.

The result of this, however, has been a mandate to our Grade 8 History teachers, to be sure their students are exposed to the Grades Six and Seven History Standards materials, AND their Grade 8 History Standards. The Grade 8 History teachers already gripe and bemoan the amount of standards materials they are given to teach; now, they have at least six weeks less time to teach that Grade 8 material because they must "expose" their students to the History of the World from Early Man to about 1700.

There are several ways to remedy this problem.....beginning with the California State Social Studies Standards themselves. I cannot begin to go into it here, but lets just say, they badly need work to create a quality survey of World and US History and Geography for our children. There are parts that need to be tossed from it ( I offer, as a sample, Standard 7-5-4: "Trace the development of distinctive forms of Japanese Buddhism." Wouldn't it be enough for students to have an elementary grasp of what Buddhism is ? ) And the geography.....Our world is too small for our children, the future leaders of this planet, not to know something about what is on it and where things are. At least here in California, when the current incarnation of the State Social Studies Standards were first concocted, they pretty much threw out Geography. High Schools used to have a required Grade 9 Geography class. AFAIK, most no longer have such a class; there is no required Grade 9 Social Studies class.

Another remedy could be that the teachers in Grades Five and Six taught the Social Studies Standards for Grades Five and Six. I cannot say what happens in other school districts, but in the district I teach in, Social Studies is pretty much ignored by District Officialdom as being necessary.....because in Grades Five and Six, students are not tested in Social Studies. And, increasingly, our teachers in Grades K-6 are told what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it and are closely spied upon, Oops, I mean helped by an army of "resource teachers, reading coaches and curriculum specialists". So, I cannot really blame them for not teaching their students early US history or Ancient World History. They are not given the opportunity to do so.

What is it like with you ? How unprepared for History/Social Studies are your students ? Or, are they prepared when they get to you? If so, what does your district do ?

I hear rumors that California is planning to revise their Social Studies Standards. Anyone our here on the Left Coast heard about such a thing ? I might like to be invited to that party.

Have a happy weekend. I have a ton of 4x, DBQ and Graphic Organizer papers to grade.

Thanks for reading all this. I hope it makes you think and write a comment.