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Scholars Put Civics in Same Category as Literacy, Math (Education Week)

In his research, Keith C. Barton, an education professor at Indiana University, argues that preservice teachers need to expand their understanding of their roles as teachers. He writes that teachers must model and teach civic engagement, and that while teacher-preparation programs can help inculcate those values and skills, most don’t.

As I’ve mentioned before, my teacher prep program is not like other programs. Because the focus is on urban education, we look at issues of poverty, race, gender, social justice, and society. It’s not something just the social studies people talk about - it’s important to everyone. And I think that’s what this article is saying, if I’m not reading too much into it: all preservice teachers should be learning about civics instruction, not just the social studies teachers. Because civics affects daily life. It’s kind of like literacy, for which I took the class Teaching Literacy in the Content Areas, where regardless of our concentration we had to learn reading and writing methods.

What are your thoughts on the state of civics education?


Champlin mom crusades for gay kids after son's suicide (Pioneer Press)

Just a few quotes from this article:

"Unfortunately, people are listening to me because my kid died,” Aaberg said.

She hit a wall after testifying before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights this May. Lights were flashing at her as she recounted her son’s experience and told the panel about the number of bullied GLBT kids dying from suicide. Afterward, she had to listen to others testify. Some said bullying was freedom of speech.

Clearly, civics education needs some help, because this is not the definition of free speech.


Specialists Weigh Common Social Studies Standards (Education Week)

The combination of recent budget crunches that led to cutbacks in nontested areas; federal officials’ rhetoric about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math, known as the STEM subjects; and the exclusion of social studies from the common-core-standards movement has made social studies teachers feel their subjects have been “marginalized,” Ms. Swan said.

So far, the group has agreed on a one-sentence definition of K-12 social studies: “The social studies is an interdisciplinary exploration of the social sciences and humanities, including civics, history, economics, and geography, in order to develop responsible, informed, and engaged citizens and to foster civic, global, historical, geographic, and economic literacy.”

Teaching the Civil War, 150 years later (Washington Post)

Her students read aloud from a play called “Mary Chesnut and her Diary,” dramatizing Virginians’ torn feelings about secession in early 1861. They studied a map Agner had stapled to a corkboard with states colored blue for most of the Union, gray for the Confederacy, green for slave states that stayed in the Union and yellow for the Union-loyalist state carved out of the Old Dominion in 1863 — West Virginia.

They learned about the industrializing North and agricultural South, the fallout from Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and Lee’s victory at Fredericksburg in 1862. Their Smart Board flickered with short video clips on key events and maps showing the evolving demographics of the slave population — a group that Virginia history standards ask schools to call “enslaved African Americans.”

Students puzzled over whether the Army of Northern Virginia belonged to the North or South. At first most guessed North because of the army’s name — a common assumption. The class cleared it up later.


Social Studies Gets the Short End of the Stick, Again (HuffPost Education)

via thingsforteachers:

Chancellor Meryl Tisch and the New York State Board of Regents seemed determined to purge social studies and the study of history from the New York State elementary and middle school curriculum. First they dropped 5th and 8th grade social studies assessments for academic year 2010-2011 to help close a budget deficit.

Now, according to recommendations made by Deputy Commissioner Jon King, they want to integrate social studies and art into the England/Language Arts curriculum, which given testing pressure, means schools and students can kiss art and history goodbye.

Tisch and the Regents justify the attack of history and the social studies as part of their response to Race to the Top (the top of what is not clear). Because the federal government does not mandate history and social studies assessments and does not monitor the scores, New York is free to lower the standards in these areas to the level of Mississippi and Alabama — unless the public loudly protests.

The purge of history would also be extended to the high schools, where under the latest proposal, students would no longer be required to take standardized Regents assessments in global history and United States history. Instead, they could chose from a menu of exams that would allow them to avoid history altogether. In addition, they are proposing that districts and students be charged for tests, which will mean students opt to take fewer exams and fewer subjects.

What. This is so ridiculous.

It frustrates me that non-tested subjects are being ignored and marginalized (obviously this extends beyond social studies, but this will be my focus here). Interdisciplinary planning across language arts & social studies curriculum can assist in developing all of the skills that policymakers want to boost test scores in in testing language arts. I mean, we do read & write in social studies. Analyzing primary sources, recognizing and addressing bias, researching and writing essays…it is not merely about memorizing facts. I also truly believe we need social studies in today’s globalized society to create students that are aware and educated about the world around them and what created that world. Despite today’s culture of high stakes testing, I didn’t expect it to go this far.

At China’s New Museum, History Toes Party Line (NYTimes)

But one tradition has remained firmly in place: China will not confront its own history. The museum is less the product of extensive research, discovery or creativity than the most prominent symbol of the Communist Party’s efforts to control the narrative of history and suppress alternative points of view, even those that exist within the governing elite. It is also an example of how China finds it difficult to create cultural institutions that prove equal to its economic achievements.

The exhibition walks a delicate line. Organized by Chinese dynasties, it tries to show how all of the 56 ethnic groups in today’s China have always worked together harmoniously. Even the Mongolian empire, which conquered China in the 12th century, is made part of the story. It is referred to as a precursor of today’s multicultural China.

It ignores the conflicts, which real history shouldn’t do,” said an archaeology professor at Peking University who asked to remain anonymous because of the issue’s delicacy. “This is why I would not call this exhibition real history but propaganda.”

Very interesting article that would be a great discussion-starter for a discussion on bias in history / textbooks / reporting.

How Slavery Really Ended in America (NYTimes)

Whatever Butler’s decision on the three fugitives’ fate, he would have to reach it quickly. He had barely picked up his pen to finally begin that report before an adjutant interrupted with another message: a rebel officer, under flag of truce, had approached the causeway of Fort Monroe. The Virginians wanted their slaves back.

“Do you mean, then, to set aside your constitutional obligation to return them?”

Even the dour Butler must have found it hard to suppress a smile. This was, of course, a question he had expected. And he had prepared what he thought was a fairly clever answer.

“I mean to take Virginia at her word,” he said. “I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country, which Virginia now claims to be.”

On Sunday morning, eight more fugitives turned up at Union lines outside the fort. On Monday, there were 47 — and not just young men now, but women, old people, entire families. There was a mother with a 3-month-old infant in her arms. There was an aged slave who had been born in the year of America’s independence.

Many of the Union soldiers had never really spoken with a black person before; the Vermont farmboys had perhaps never even seen one before leaving home. Now they were conversing with actual men and women who had been (and perhaps still were) slaves: people who had previously figured only as a political abstraction. Some fugitives shared horrific accounts; one man described “bucking,” a practice in which a slave, before being beaten, had his wrists and ankles tied and slipped over a wooden stake. Almost all spoke of loved ones sold away; the most chilling thing was that they said it matter-of-factly, as if their wives or children had simply died.

Perhaps most surprising of all — for Northerners accustomed to Southern tales of contentedly dependent slaves — was this, in the words of one soldier: “There is a universal desire among the slaves to be free. Even old men and women, with crooked backs, who could hardly walk or see, shared the same feeling.”

It soon became apparent from the behavior of the contrabands that the vast majority of slaves did not want vengeance: they simply wanted to be free and to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other Americans. Many were even ready to share in the hardships and dangers of the war. Millions of white Americans realized they did not actually have to fear a bloodbath if the slaves were suddenly set free. This awareness in itself was a revolution.

This is some fabulous history that I was unfamiliar with. I found it quite moving, and think it would make for a great resource / classroom exercise.


Haley Barbour, slavery and the citizenship test (Salon)

Of course, Barbour’s repudiation of secession is no doubt prompted, at least in part, by his all-but-declared candidacy for president. As a national candidate he will have to appeal beyond his Southern base, and that means rejecting Confederate apologia in favor of, well, actual history.

If only it didn’t take political aspiration to cause someone to acknowledge reality. (Of course, political aspiration sometimes causes people to disengage from reality entirely. But that’s a whole other story.)

In fact, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) thoroughly revised and updated it in 2008. The test contains several other incorrect answers, but none that are as egregious as misidentification of the causes of the Civil War.

Wait, what? There are several incorrect answers on the US CITIZENSHIP TEST? How is this even possible? Is this revisionist history? I don’t even understand.

The Union troops had a different and far more moving ideal, which was immortalized in one of the later stanzas of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Let us die to make men free.” It is, frankly, an insult to their memory that the USCIS naturalization test fails to recognize the cause for which they gave their lives.

'History has never been so unpopular' (Guardian UK via International Education News)

Second, as the inspectors’ report acknowledges, England is the only country in Europe where history is not compulsory for students beyond the age of 14. Worse, many state schools now offer a two-year key stage 3 course, which allows some pupils to stop studying history at the age of 13.

And here are four more facts that are not in the Ofsted report:

• 25% of all schools no longer teach history as a discrete subject in year 7

• 30% of comprehensives spend less than one hour a week on history in the years up to age 13

• More GCSE candidates took design and technology than history last year

• More A-level candidates took psychology.

Wow. And I was worried about the state of social studies in the US! Good thing I’m not in the UK.

Even more disturbing is the evidence of widespread historical ignorance among school-leavers. A recent survey of first-year undergraduates reading history at a reputable UK university found that: 66% did not know who was monarch at time of the Armada; 69% did not know the location of the Boer war; 84% did not know who commanded British forces at Waterloo (a third thought it was Nelson); and 89% could not name a single 19th-century British prime minister.

OK, I don’t know any of these answers, but I’ve also never taken a British history course. I could certainly answer the American equivalents. I’m always surprised by people who don’t know basic US history. Were they not paying attention, or was it not taught?

How did we get here? The problem is surely not poor teaching. Rather, it is the stuff that teachers are expected to do, which is the product of an unholy alliance between well-meaning politicians and educationalists, not forgetting over-mighty examination boards.

Ah… so the problem in the UK is the same as it is here. Well-meaning people adding more and more to the curriculum, to the point where it’s hard to learn anything at the pace at which it must be covered.