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Make up work


Dear Readers,

My great apologies for not having posted for more than a week and not posting much today. It's the start of testing season for teachers in Texas and since my work schedule follows much of theirs, it's a whirlwind for me as well. There have been some awesome comments written on the blog that I can't wait to respond to. Please use this blog as a place to foster dialogue, especially around closing the achievement gap and the work of new teachers. I'll be posting new (a lot of) content by this Friday so please stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out The New York Times article on teenagers' (lack of) knowledge of world history.

"Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492."

“The nation’s education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of federal law, and that is not healthy,” Ms. Cortese and Dr. Ravitch said.

I specifically support the Social Studies content in the Rio Grande Valley. We DO focus on basic social studies skills such as map reading, database analysis, and passage comprehension. Teachers are required to teach the content, of course, but I emphasize to them to use it as a vehicle to teach the skills. Is that wrong? To me, that's a major foundation in social studies. I admit, I didn't know the exact date the Civil War began (1861), but I sure had the skills to research it at a moment's notice (Wikipedia).

Our students, from 6th to 12th grade, are coming into class not knowing how to construct a bar graph or interpret a flow chart. To me, teaching students social studies skills at the highest level should be more a priority than memorizing history facts. But maybe I'm just lowering the bar for these students? Maybe they should be memorizing these facts?


The memorization of dates from history isn't going to help our future leaders BE leaders. Rather, having them understand the why behind the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI and II, etc. will better help them to know our history and how we have become the country we have. Knowledge of history and not dates will also help them to see why we should not make those same mistakes again, and perhaps one or more of them will be in a position to ensure that doesn't happen in the future.

I had a student ask me the day before yesterday: If I think of the word "history" what is the first thing that comes to mind? I said the William the Conquerer bit below. And then she asked me what color he was. She was concerned (as a mixed culture student) that our students are learning WHITE history, not AMERICAN history. I've been focusing a lot on African Americans who have made a difference in American history this month so that they know that MLK wasn't the end all be all of African American contributions to the history of our country. Her comment made me realize that American History isn't about dates. It's about people who made us what we are--people of all cultures.

Example: for some reason, I know that in 1066, William the Conquerer invaded England and took it at the Battle of Hastings. But I can't say WHY. This doesn't help me teach, and it doesn't help my students understand why England is the way it is...or where England is in relation to where we are.

I don't think by encouraging kids to look at history differently than we did when we were kids is harming them. I'd rather they be able to locate Colorado on a map and tell me how many states we have, and why. It's that WHY that gets me. Why was the Civil War fought? Why do we have two main political parties? Why do we have a constitution? Why do we vote? Why do women get to vote now but couldn't before?

Woops...forgot to say who wrote that anonymous part! Was me :)

I agree completely that social studies skills are far more valuable than a memorized list of dates, even for passing our dreaded Texas tests. Those skills are closely tied to the reading, math, and science skills which get all the attention and fuss these days, too.

However, one does need to have a general idea of the time period in which an important event occurred, and especially its position in history relative to other important events, to understand why something happened and why it matters now.

Engaging students and helping them understand why the past matters now is the hardest part of teaching social studies. The white-history curriculum in which students do not see themselves or their culture only makes that more difficult.

To Teresa and FrogPrincess:

1) What exactly do you mean when you speak of "white history"?

2) Do you believe there are any facts of history that ALL students should be required to learn? (If so, then how would you distinguish between facts of history that are important for all students to know vs. facts that are not terribly important?)

In order to understand the why of the Civil War, you need to know the when. Without the context -- what came before, what came after, you cannot understand what the Civil War was about and how it fit into the story of America. It's fine to know how to look up a date on Google or Wikipedia, but that's no substitute for knowing the dates that are important in American history. We don't tell students to look up Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, we expect them to know it. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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Recent Comments

  • Georgeanna Durrwachter: Alright Truly good info I am able to use , read more
  • Carla: In order to understand the why of the Civil War, read more
  • Jaclyn: To Teresa and FrogPrincess: 1) What exactly do you mean read more
  • FrogPrincess: I agree completely that social studies skills are far more read more
  • Teresa: Woops...forgot to say who wrote that anonymous part! Was me read more




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