Needs for History

Posted on February 3, 2011 by Shennan Hutton

I’ve just finished sending out a survey to teachers who have attended past History Project events. The survey asks teachers and others interested in history-social science education about their current needs. We’re also asking teachers to advise us about the online tools that they find most useful. If you’d like to take the survey, click here. I’d be happy to receive your input and advice as well!

Watching news coverage of the demonstrations in Egypt reminds me of the awesome responsibility of history-social science education. The original rationale for public education in the new United States was to prepare children to be good citizens in our democracy. Our founding fathers (and mothers) argued that the young republic would only work if citizens were educated.

But somehow the idea that children need to be taught how to think critically, how to participate in government, and how to honor the people who struggled in the past to gain and preserve freedom, is losing out to the idea that schools have to have high test scores. The high test scores that count are those in English/Language Arts and math. In California, there is no state test for history-social science before grade 8. Elementary schools are under such tremendous pressure to improve their reading and math scores, and under no pressure at all to teach history-social science. Reading and math scores appear in the newspaper; those are the scores the state uses to grade the effectiveness of the schools.
When I told her about my work on the Blueprint project, my mother was horrified to learn about the marginalization of history in elementary schools. Then she told me about her elementary school days during the Great Depression. “In fifth grade, we learned about … what’s the land called, now it’s Iraq? … and about Egypt. I don’t remember all the words, but … Oh, the pictures in the books! I can still remember those pictures. And for our project, we built a castle out of Ivory soap bars. I still remember that! On the kitchen table, carving those soap bars to make the crenellations of the towers! I haven’t thought of that in years! What an awful thing that children today don’t learn about that in elementary school!”

Once again, Mom, you’re right.