Tuesday, June 13, 2006

NC gets F in World History

The North Carolina course of study for World History received a grade of F in a report conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute researchers reviewed the standards for teaching world history in all 50 US states. Only eight states received an A and NC was one of 33 states receiving a grade of D or F. National Review has more background on the study.

The institute's conclusion says NC's standards sound good on paper, but fall short in practice:

It sounds good, but in practice the approach doesn’t work
so well. North Carolina, unlike other states, sequences its
world history curriculum by region rather than time in the
middle school years. So students are introduced to Canada,
Mexico, and Central America in fifth grade; South America
and Europe in sixth grade; and Africa,Asia and Australia in
eighth grade. This approach is supposed to prevent teaching
overlapping material, but in fact it breeds repetition
and discontinuity. For instance, students would need to
study the ramifications of the Cold War each year in order
to gain an understanding of this or any other transformational
historical event of global importance.

As a seventh-grade social studies teacher, (the report places the study of Africa and Asia in eighth grade, it's actually taught in seventh), I find little fault with the study's assessment. There is too little time in a school year to devote much time to the cultures of India, China, Japan, Korea, the Arab World and Middle East, the continent of Africa, and if time allows, throw in Australia and New Zealand. You may see what teachers are up against. After I started teaching seventh grade, I became increasingly fascinated by the history of India and South Asia. We're talking about a culture that covers at least 5,000 years. I have about two weeks tops to interpret the events of that time frame into something 12 and 13-year olds can somehow relate to. By the time I get on a roll, it's time to move to China.

I think teaching history through time makes more sense. For example, teach the ancient years at fifth grade and bring them through current times by the seventh or eighth grade. It would be better to stay stuck in the way distant past for an entire course rather than racing through several thousand years of history every couple of weeks.

I don't expect to see any change in the NC standards. The concentration on reading and math at the elementary and middle school levels, which needed to happen, sucks up all the oxygen at the Department of Public Instruction. As long as you can reinforce math and reading skills through the social studies curriculum, content or context doesn't seem to matter much. I'm more than happy to gear my lessons to integrating math and reading into social studies. In fact, I believe it's helped me become a more effective teacher. However, it would be nice to have a less cumbersome framework with which to work.

BTW: Three of our four neighboring states, SC, VA and GA, aced the study, each scoring an A. The fourth, TN, needs to join NC for after-school tutoring sessions.

Here's the pdf of the entire study.


Anonymous Andrew Pass said...

Teaching history in a public school need not be limited to the past or to different cultures around the world. Instead, effective teachers continuously ask students to relate what they are learning about the past or foreign places to their own lives. While students should not evaluate what they are learning through the prism of their own life, they should use what they are learning to develop deeper understanding of themselves. I'm not certain if the Fordham study truly took this attribute of the teaching of history into account.

Andy Pass


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