What does it mean if NCLB wants to leave history behind?
A few of us from the high school got together with a couple of our middle school counterparts a while back. They wanted to meet with us to see how they could help align the skills and content they teach to help support their students who want to take AP level courses in high school. This was a watered down version of a concept known in AP world as "vertical teaming."
What finally came out after we got finished talking about specific things like creating a thesis statement and analyzing documents and pictorial evidence was this: they have gotten the message from administrators that their only function in an NCLB world is to reinforce the English curriculum. They were meeting with us in a bid to justify their existence as an independent department. Of course, this situation is already in jeopardy when you have not one soul teaching a social studies class in two of the three grades in one of the middle schools who has an actual major in social studies or history.
We actually have two-person and three-person teams in several situations in which the teachers all split up the social studies classes in addition to their "regular" discipline. All that means is another prep which teachers are supposed to juggle, inevitably shunted aside in both interest and importance to both teacher and student alike due to a lack of content knowledge. It's a miracle the students learn anything about history under those circumstances.
Because social studies is not tested under either federal or state guidelines, the administration (this word has multiple meanings in this context, and I use all of these meanings deliberately) has devalued history education as just a wonderful way to teach some basic writing and reading skills. This is not the first time I have heard something of this nature around these parts, either. Many schools-- elementary and middle level-- are doubling up on the minutes devoted to language arts and mathematics in a frenzied quest to meet AYP.
If one does the basic math (ahem!), one can see that some other subject or subjects somewhere will have to lose out. And around here that is history, since there is a groundswell of support for supporting more stringent science education, with which I agree, BTW (see here and here and here, just for starters). Regular readers know how I feel about mathematics education from previous posts. Nonetheless, several of my friends tell me that their elementary-aged children currently receive about 10 minutes of her day devoted to social studies content as their classes prepare to descend into the maelstrom of testing that ever and anon is bearing down upon us.
I fully support a more rich and meaningful science education in our schools. I mean, really, any time you've got nearly a majority of Americans thinking the world was created at 8 am on a Monday morning in 4004 BC or something, you KNOW you've got a crisis on your hands, not to mention a certain state where they also believe that babies are found in the cabbage patch and that's all kids need to know, except that God hates America's alleged tolerance of gays so much that God laughs when soldiers die in Iraq.
History is not targeted by any high-stakes tests. Does that mean that history doesn't count? Should history class merely function as an outpost to teach language arts and math and science? These are things I cover incidentally in my classes, but by no means do I believe that my sole purpose is to help kids pass federally mandated tests outside my subject area, much less IN my subject area, were they to even exist. That kind of education is a poor excuse for an education.
I believe all knowledge and all content areas are important. I explain and encourage discussion of math and English and science content whenever I see a question arise in class. To me, it's all about background knowledge and frame of reference. At this point, I must disclose that I am also a certified English teacher with 7 years' experience as an instructor in that content area. I expect correct grammar and spelling on work turned in in my class. For that matter, I expect correct computation on questions that I include in my students assignments which require mathematics skills. My middle name is "Multidisciplinary." Sue me.
Is the study of history and the social sciences irrelevant in fact as well as in testing?
I hold an unshakeable certainty that students need to be able to evaluate what it REALLY means when a current political figure is compared to Hitler, or to understand how hard it was to develop democracy in this country, and how hard it has been to develop it in other countries, not to mention that they need to be able to evaluate the benefits ans well as limitations of democracy. I think students need to understand why there is a difference between their gross pay and their net pay, and understand where that difference goes, and why. I think students need to understand why the math teacher gives them interest problems to compute.
I think students need to understand how religion affects societies both secular and theocratic in this world. For instance: why are people willing to die for their religious beliefs? Why are people willing to kill for their religious beliefs? Why is the term "crusade" an emotionally charged term in some parts of the world, just as "jihad" has become an emotionally charged term in other parts of the world? Why are some people of the opinion that faith and reason are diametrically opposed to each other?
It is these and a thousand other questions which are the duty of social studies education to address. An ignorant citizenry in any subject is a citizenry that gives up its liberty to think, much less to create and to lead. Some of my students tell me that the hardest thinking they do all day is in my class-- partially because there is often no verifiably "right" answer to the question with which we wrestle.
What a bizarre world to live in where NOT being a subject of high-stakes standardized testing is a cause for concern.