The war over teaching history is heating up, again
Back in the mid-1990’s a debacle ensued when highly biased national history standards were proposed. In the end, the US Senate adopted a resolution condemning the standards and shortly after that the congress pulled money from the group creating those standards. It wasn’t a happy experience.
Now, new issues with public school education standards in the area of history and social studies have raised their ugly heads again, and the situation promises to be even more contentious than the brouhaha already swirling around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards.
Standards for history and social studies once again are in the crosshairs, and it looks like concerned citizens are loading up to start shooting with high caliber ammunition.
Perhaps the most dramatic shot fired so far is Stanley Kurtz’s recently published National Review Online blog article, “New War Over High School U.S. History.”
Kurtz figuratively borrowed some of George Washington’s artillery officer Henry Knox’s heavy cannons to take some major shots at a brand new Advanced Placement U.S. History course that students will start taking in just a few weeks. Some of Kurtz’s high explosive charges:
• “The traditional emphasis on America’s founders and the principles of constitutional government will soon be jettisoned in favor of a left-leaning emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, etc.”
• “…new AP U.S. History Exam…may conflict with existing history standards in a number of states.”
• “…public debate over this massive and tremendously controversial change (has) been largely suppressed by the stealthy way in which the College Board has rolled out the new test.”
• “…a complete sample exam has been released, although only to certified AP U.S. History teachers. Those teachers have been warned, under penalty of law and the stripping of their AP teaching privileges, not to disclose the content of the new sample AP U.S. History Exam to anyone.”
That last one really sticks in my craw. It sounds an awful lot like the secrecy surrounding the creation of the Common Core State Standards. And, that might not be an accident. Kurtz points out that the new AP course comes from the College Board, now under the direction of David Coleman, who, not coincidentally, many consider to be the architect of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.
Also, if this is just a practice test for teachers, as Kurtz asserts, I want to know why the public cannot see it. That goes ditto for other responsible parties like local school board members, etc.
The history war has actually been quietly firing up for some time. About a year ago, former high school history teacher Craig Thurtell released “Do the Common Core Standards Flunk History?”
Thurtell presents a very disturbing discussion about how the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS-ELA) actually intrude – in a damaging way – into other academic disciplines, including history. Thurtell, who holds a Doctorate from Columbia and has taught history at one of the more upscale New York City area suburban high schools, probably has some idea about what he is talking about.
“It is my contention that the CCSS express an antipathy to the humanities in general and insensitivity to the practice of history in particular, and that this problem is closely related to their non-historical approach to historical texts. This approach also permits the allocation of historical texts to English teachers, most of whom are untrained in the study of history, and leads to history standards that neglect the distinctiveness of the discipline. If implemented as their authors intend, the common core will damage history education (emphasis added).”
Thurtell points out that reading for English class is different from reading for true historical perspective, a vitally important point that totally escaped the framers of the CCSS-ELA.
Thurtell also points to comments made by high school English teacher Jeremiah Chaffee in 2012 about how a Common Core inspired reading lesson Chaffee was required to help create on the Gettysburg Address was simply a disaster.
“I was struck by how out of sync the Common Core is with what I consider to be good teaching.”
Chaffee’s team looked at an exemplar lesson on the Gettysburg Address from Common Core reference materials. He says:
“Most of it was too scripted. It spelled out what types of questions to ask, what types of questions not to ask, and essentially narrowed any discussion to obvious facts and ideas from the speech(emphasis added).”
“This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.”
Imagine that. Students are presented with the Gettysburg Address without any context of the time and reasons leading up to its presentation. In fact, students who know some of the historical background are prevented from bringing that into the discussion. The reading exercise is to be totally based on the passage alone. That enslaves Lincoln’s famous speech as nothing more than a passage from a Dick and Jane reader!
I find it notable that even English teacher Chaffee understands the serious historical errors created by plucking the Gettysburg Address out of its historical context and making it into a dull English class exercise in, well, just reading words.
Thus, as the history war heats up, we find both English and history teachers lining up to pass the ammunition to National Review artilleryman Kurtz.
One more point in closing – Craig Thurtell, who I mentioned earlier, also said this:
“’Social Studies’ does not constitute a discipline; rather, it is a grouping of social science disciplines for K-12 grade levels that is rarely found in higher education. The combination has its origins in the Progressive era, a time when many, though not all, professional educators favored downgrading traditional areas of study like classical literature and history, as mass immigration transformed the U.S. population and led to advocacy of a more “practical,” less academic curriculum. Unfortunate consequences ensued, and now the CCSS has provided one more example.”
I mention social studies here because the Kentucky Board of Education will soon consider new social studies standards for Kentucky. If the flap over the AP U.S. History Course provides any clues, Kentuckians need to pay a lot of attention to this process and let board members know right now that this state will not tolerate an uneven and biased presentation of our country’s history that ignores the many important contributions, as well as the mistakes, our forefathers made in founding this country. Most definitely, the whole adoption process and the materials actually being considered for adoption MUST be open to the public and our teachers. The process must be conducted in a careful and reasoned way (read, not rushed like CCSS adoption) that will allow the public ample time to be involved.