Tuesday, December 16, 2003
A high-school U.S. history course syllabus is more likely to pose questions about why America has shortchanged minority members and women and dumped on blue-collar workers, and to highlight women's suffrage, the environmental and civil rights movements and the Vietnam War.That's a fair assessment of what is happening. The rest of the story details the level of coverage of some topics in modern high school history courses. We learn that
The state proposal doesn't ignore those but is more likely to feature names and events such as the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, the Battle of the Bulge and agricultural implement pioneers Cyrus McCormick and John Deere.
Even the language used -- "robber barons" vs. "rise of corporations" -- is a tip-off that this is one of the battlegrounds in America's culture war, which often pits conservatives against liberals, Republicans against Democrats.
The proposed social studies standards -- of which U.S. history is a part -- are being tweaked before a draft is released this week. There are signs that criticism slamming the requirements as being about too many white men and battles, and too "America the Beautiful," are having an impact.
For instance, the latest version of the high-school requirements includes specific references to Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; they were missing from the first draft. And indications are that the hundreds of requirements might be pared by 30 to 40 percent to make them more palatable to teachers.
- "The syllabus for St. Paul students states that students should evaluate U.S. history by "identifying how race, culture, gender, sexual orientation and disability" influenced key events;"
- "...by the end of their sophomore year, Anoka-Hennepin students are expected to know the names of people not always found on the state's list of historic figures. They include labor leader Cesar Chavez, feminist Betty Friedan, social reformer Jane Addams and black Revolutionary War poet Philliss Wheatley;
- "The things we really concentrate on are the Progressive Era, 1890-1920, women's suffrage, the Nineteenth Amendment [granting women the right to vote], and the women's movement," one HS history teacher said. "In the 1920s, we focus on some names, but mostly how women in general have really moved up in society and the types of jobs they've had. . . . In the westward expansion unit, we focus on Indians quite a bit. Then there's the civil rights unit. Civil rights for me is about two and a half weeks."
Probably more frightening than this is what students think. Said one student, "You got a thousand pages on white people, you could at least give Somalia a page or two." Um, it's a U.S. history class, son. Worth reading to see the debate over whether it's "a teacher's job to instill patriotism in a student."
More coverage coming when the standards are posted online in the next day or two.