Blueprint for History Education

Originally posted on January 5, 2011 by Shennan Hutton

The History Blueprint

Welcome to a new blog about history education! This blog will be the chronicle of a project called the Creating a Blueprint for History and Social Science Education: Advancing Instruction, Assessment, Student Learning, and Engagement, or Blueprint for short. As a project coordinator for the California History-Social Science Project, I’m to coordinate the Blueprint effort. I’m excited about the assignment and the possibilities this project holds for the future of history education in California and throughout the United States. The Blueprint directly addresses the crisis in history education in the K-12 schools.

One aspect of the crisis in history education has been around for a long time. When you were young, chances are that you experienced history through reading a rather dry textbook accompanied by a worksheet, or as a multiple-choice test full of names and dates. Although you probably also heard lectures, read primary sources, or watched videos that were fascinating, stimulating and inspiring, the volume of historical content and persistence of less-effective methods make history one of the top choices on students’ hated-subject lists. The memorized historical facts slip away much more quickly than the memory of discomfort, with the result that as adults, 26% of us cannot remember what country the U.S. fought against in the Revolution.

But another dimension of the crisis is new and very frightening. History, social science, and social studies are disappearing from elementary classrooms across the nation. For students who struggle with reading, middle schools frequently substitute an extra period of reading instruction in place of U.S. or world history. The drive to raise student test scores dominates decision-making by school administrators, and teachers are under huge pressure to produce higher scores on the key tests: reading and math. California students take exams in reading and math every year, but they are only tested in history in grades 8, 10 and 11. While fifth-graders still make turkey and pilgrim hat cutouts for Thanksgiving, they might not otherwise learn anything about colonial America.

I’ll have more to say about the problems in future blogs, but my main focus will be on solutions which are realistic in this age of limited resources. The aim of the Blueprint project is to attack the two causes of the history education crisis by developing a complete curriculum for K-12 history-social science, testing and improving it, and offering it free on-line. Here are the components:

• Curriculum units aligned with history-social science content standards
• Digital media
• Primary sources
• Historical thinking skill development
• Support for academic literacy
• Assessments to measure student knowledge and skill levels before, during and after units
• Tools for parents

I’ll have much more to say about the Blueprint in future blogs. If you’re interested in learning more about Blueprint now, click here.

Photo: Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Division,