I saw an article the other day from Teacher Magazine online via the Associated Press called Arkansas Historians Upset Over Curriculum. It caused me concern. Even though state law requires the teaching of state history, Arkansas educrats have proposed a new framework for teaching history that eradicates a major chunk of curriculum.
The article states:
Tom Dillard, president of the Arkansas History Education Coalition, suggested Saturday that the new guidelines for social studies, approved by the state Education Board this year, violate a 1997 state law on teaching Arkansas history and effectively reverse the group's effort of at least the last 20 years to incorporate the subject into school curricula.
The [state] board [of education] …[wishes to] combine social studies and Arkansas history into one subject for kindergartners through sixth graders and [wants to require] the teaching of world history in seventh and eight grades, typically when Arkansas history is taught.
Dillard noted that the 10-year-old state law, adopted he said after the state Education Department failed to follow through on a promise to beef up Arkansas history instruction in the schools, requires that schools teach a unit of Arkansas history as a social studies subject at each elementary grade "with greater emphasis at the fourth and fifth grade levels."
In addition, he said, the schools must teach a full semester of Arkansas history to students between the seventh and 12th grades.
A one year moratorium has been set that will keep the framework from being implemented, while the educrats and Arkansas historians fight this out. It got me to thinking, however, if educrats can attempt to do this in Arkansas, they can try to do it in my own home state of Georgia. I hope not, but since we already see a watering down of history in the schools due to testing concerns over English/Language Arts and Math, I can’t help but wonder what’s next.
In a society where we have many transient students would state history matter to them? Would any of the students benefit from it? Is the teaching of state history wasted time?
I think not as long as teachers are competent in their subject matter and capable of knowing their own weak areas in the content, so they can beef up their knowledge. State history is American history. The story is simply told from the view point of the state where the students live. It should not only be told from a textbook, but rather from the resources of the state itself. Students should be taking numerous fieldtrips during their state history course to see the wonderful historic sites their own state has to offer, and lessons should be design in such a way to allow students to discover much of the content themselves.
The goals of teaching state history are and should be no different from teaching a broader American History course. Students should acquire skills, knowledge, and values necessary to make decisions as informed decisions in a culturally diverse democratic nation and interdependent world, or as the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) states students should acquire civic competance.
But why state history? Can’t they get that from a regular American History course?
In an article published in the OAH Magazine of History titled Teaching State History: Anacronism or Opportunity, Rhoda R.Gilman proposes that state history is a natural place for demonstrating the interplay between the individual and the universal. To leave out state history is to leave the student in a vacuum where no recognition is made to the local area and its contribution to the American story. State history is the perfect vehicle to allow students to see how an area is directly involved with changes over time.
Any move to waterdown or delete the teaching of state history attacks state identity. During his farewell address in 1989 President Ronald Reagan had the teaching of history on his mind. He said the country had been failing to adequately teach children the American story and what it represents in the history of the world. “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion, but what’s important. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately in an erosion of the American spirit.”
State history is part of that American memory, and it should not be eradicated or left to those who are less informed to merely weave into other curricular areas. By the time students reach middle school teaching state history should not be something done as an "Oh, by the way", or as a "tack on" activity. Older students are capable of seeing far more than most think, and are able to keep up with a large cast of characters and various viewpoints. It is the perfect time to teach the American story from the state’s viewpoint. It is simply one more layer of schema for children as they progress towards their high school years.