Monday, December 8, 2014

Teaching the “Black Lives Matter” Movement





In the past month two separate grand juries did not indict police officers involved in the shooting of Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and strangling of Eric Garner (Staten Island, New York). These are two of several high-profile cases involving White police officers using deadly (or near deadly) force on unarmed Black men, including Rodney King (L.A. Riots), Amadou Diallo, and Oscar Grant (whose family reached out to Michael Brown's family). Here in Massachusetts, our local news media has illuminated the police-related shootings of D. J. Henry (in Mount Pleasant, New York) and Eurie Stamps (in Framingham, Massachusetts). Recently, there were also the shootings of John Crawford III (who was carrying a BB gun he intended to purchase inside a Walmart) and Tamir Rice (a 12 year old who was shot while he played with a pellet gun on an Ohio playground). Furthermore, these events occurred only two years after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot to death by self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman (see my previous post on teaching Trayvon Martin).

In reaction to these events, there is a widespread growing social movement that has labeled itself the “Black Lives Matter” movement. From Boston to San Francisco, New York to Los Angeles, groups of activists (many in their late teens and early 20s and from a diverse array of racial backgrounds) are uniting to raise concerns about the treatment of Black men by law enforcement and the society as a whole (including their portrayal in the media). At the national level, these groups are using social media platforms (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter) to organize mass demonstrations and spread counter-arguments to mainstream media. There have been mass demonstrations in Ferguson (Missouri), St. Louis, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, here in Boston (as well as neighboring Cambridge and the predominately White suburbs of Lexington and Newton), and numerous other cities across the nation.

How should social studies teachers approach the teaching of these events? If you watch the 24-hour news networks, these events are being framed by the media in terms of "were the police justified in their actions?" and "are the protesters right to be upset?" Commentators are asking their guests, could the officers have avoided using deadly force? Some are even suggesting that the victims were responsible for their own deaths. However, this generally avoids discussing the larger issue. It reduces these events to individual actions and does not look at the larger system that perpetuates inequity and violence. Instead, teachers should be focusing on the historical and present-day factors that led to these incidences (police treatment in communities of color, income and opportunity gaps, and incarceration rates of Black males) and the growing movement to make social change around these issues. Social studies teachers should help students connect these events and determine their relationship with racism, as a system of advantage based on race, which leads to widespread social inequity.

Below are teacher resources and links to primary sources that teachers can use to teach the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

When teaching this movement, I would encourage teachers to use the following inquiry question: “What are the main factors that have led to the shooting deaths of several unarmed Black men over the past 5 years and what steps should society do to prevent this from continuing to happen in the future?” By framing the lesson as a moment to think about social change, we can hopefully increase critical conversations around race in the United States today.


Resources for Teachers:

Answering Ferguson in the Social Studies Classroom: A Perspective from St. Louis by Alex Cuenca

The Ferguson Syllabus

 by Beth Rubin

How to Teach Kids About What is Happening in Ferguson by Marcia Chatelain


Primary Sources:

"Black Lives Matter" Movement Social Media (consider taking screen shots as primary sources):
www.blacklivesmatter.com

blacklivesmatter.tumblr.com

www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatter 

twitter.com/blklivesmatter

News Articles on Movement:
www.npr.org/2014/12/04/368408247/black-lives-matter-slogan-becomes-a-bigger-movement 

www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/11/28/ferguson-must-force-face-anti-blackness/pKVMpGxwUYpMDyHRWPln2M/story.html 

www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/05/ferguson-protests-broaden-occupy-wall-street/19917015/ 

www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/black-lives-matter-11-racist-police-killings-with-no-justice-served-20141204 

Brief History of Police Violence Involving Unarmed Black Men:
www.huffingtonpost.com/g-flint-taylor/darren-wilson-wasnt-the-f_b_6216342.html 

Brief History of Ferguson and Race:
www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/23/how-ferguson-became-ferguson-the-real-story/

Statistics on Indicting Police Officers:
www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Indicting-a-police-officer-is-uncommon-occurrence-5939558.php

fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/

Statistics on Incarceration:
www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/18/chart-of-the-week-the-black-white-gap-in-incarceration-rates/

www.sentencingproject.org/map/map.cfm

www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

Perceptions of Whites and Blacks on Racial Discrimination:
news.stanford.edu/news/2014/august/prison-black-laws-080614.html

spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/10/03/1948550614553642.abstract

inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/12/perceptions-of-discrimination-a-black-and-white-story/

www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/28/the-black-white-and-urban-rural-divides-in-perceptions-of-racial-fairness/

Statement by Michael Brown's Family on Grand Jury Decision:
www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/15/statement-from-michael-browns-family-and-attorneys-beyond-outraged/

Evidence from Grand Jury in the Michael Brown Case:
apps.stlpublicradio.org/ferguson-project/evidence.html

Press Conference by Prosecutor Robert McCullouch on Michael Brown Grand Jury Decision:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd5sQEI_chs

Statement by San Francisco Public Defender on Michael Brown Grand Jury Decision:
sfpublicdefender.org/news/2014/11/sf-public-defenders-statement-on-grand-jury-decision/

Reaction from Eric Garner's Family on Grand Jury Decision:
www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hell-no-garner-family-rejects-cops-condolences-after-grand-jury-n261176

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by the Mayor of NYC Bill Blasio:
www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/03/368249828/reports-nyc-grand-jury-does-not-indict-officer-in-chokehold-case 

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by Attorney General Eric Holder:
www.justice.gov/opa/speech/statement-attorney-general-holder-federal-investigation-death-eric-garner

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by NY Patrolmen's Benevolent Association:
www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/eric-garner-chokehold-death-ny-police-union-chief-praises-grand-n261586

U.S. Department of Justice Report on Ferguson (MO) Police Department:
www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Was Built on a Lie by Jonathon Capehart
www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/03/16/lesson-learned-from-the-shooting-of-michael-brown/


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Returning from Hiatus Soon... See you at NCSS 2014!




As you may have noticed, I have been on a blogging hiatus. I have been quite busy preparing papers and presentations for this year's National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference and NCSS's College and University Faculty Assembly Annual Meeting. Expect new posts sometime soon. See you in my hometown of Boston for NCSS and CUFA 2014!

Here is a link to a flyer with BU student and faculty presentations at NCSS and CUFA.






Friday, July 25, 2014

Arne Duncan Needs an Education in Education


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard. His education ended there. After playing professional basketball in Australia, he returned home to become the leader of a philanthropic organization in Chicago (which later started a charter school) and he was eventually appointed as a leader and later head of the Chicago Public Schools. As most people know, Arne Duncan was never a teacher and he holds no degrees in education. To most educators, this is painfully clear when he gives speeches or discusses teaching, curriculum, or assessment. When educational experts analyze Race to the Top (RTTT), they see the many missed opportunities and some incredibly harmful policies in this $4 billion dollar portion of the Stimulus Package. As his signature policy, RTTT was a market-based school reform effort, which had states compete for money and prioritized standardized curriculum and associated testing, as well encouraging the proliferation of charter schools. It has been criticized not only by teachers unions, but also civil rights groups and some members of the American Educational Research Association. This has been at the heart of many educators’ desire that Linda Darling-Hammond was the Obama nominee back in 2008 and continues to fuel petitions and resolutions for Arne Duncan's resignation.

Not only does Arne Duncan lack the general understanding of educational theory and research, he continues to make incredibly uninformed statements in editorials and public appearances. For instance, in an editorial earlier this year he called Tennessee and Washington, D.C. “standout” education systems (despite the fact that their NAEP scores showed declines in the upper grades and an overall performance below the national average, as well as a general lack of improvement by most DC students and widespread concerns from Tennessee superintendents about their state's educational leadership). Last fall he depicted some parents’ concerns over the design and implementation of the Common Core as “white suburban moms” who are realizing their children are not brilliant. Perhaps his worst comment dates back to 2010, when he described Hurricane Katrina as “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

I am sure that Arne Duncan cares deeply for public education and has good intentions. He strongly believes that his policies will improve the nation’s school systems. His problem is actually a lack of education in education. If Arne Duncan went through teacher preparation and had a chance to teach children, he probably would have developed a much stronger understanding of teaching and learning. If he had studied education, he would have presumably learned about educational research and gained a broader understanding of the historic debates between the curriculum theorists. This would have helped him see that the early 21st century movement of education reform (supported by him, as well as an interesting group of neoliberals and conservatives) was really just a reiteration of that early 20th century “social efficiency” movement, which never found much success in improving education and eventually fueled many of the progressive reforms of the mid-20th century. In fact, Arne Duncan would realize that his own education (which he often cites as excellent) at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools was based on the first iteration of progressive education in the late 19th century. A close reading of the work of Franklin Bobbitt and other social efficiency supporters reveal the stark similarities to Race to the Top and the policies supported by Arne Duncan:

• An educational movement influenced by the needs of business and industry (at that time, education was to prepare factory workers)
• Over-reliance on measurement and testing outputs to determine educational quality
• Heavy focus on modifying student and teacher behaviors to improve education

Today, Arne Duncan advocates for “rigorous standards” with expanded testing and the use of large-scale data sets to guide educational decisions and he certainly does not hide his very close relationship with the business world, which generally advocates for educational privatization through "choice, competition, and deregulation."

Lacking knowledge about education is not a new phenomenon for a secretary of education. The U.S. has a long history of education secretaries with little education or experience in education. Since the creation of this cabinet-level position in the 1970s, there have been only two education secretaries with K-12 teaching experience and those same two were the only to hold a degree in education (both had a Ph.D.). Furthermore, there is an apparent growing movement to have more district superintendents (especially in urban districts) without degrees in education (see Michelle Rhee in D.C., Joel Klein in NYC, Paul Vallas in various urban districts). Even here in Boston (the “Athens of America”), Mayor Marty Walsh recently said that he wanted to appoint a new school superintendent “who isn’t necessarily an educator first but is actually an administrator first,” implying someone with managerial skills would be preferred over knowledge about education.

Arne Duncan's tenure as Secretary of Education should be a warning cry to future presidents. He is a perfect example of what can happen when the top education official (and educational leaders in general) lack both a strong background in education and substantial practical experience in schools. In fact, most of the high performing nations on international education assessments (e.g. Singapore, Finland, South Korea) would never appoint someone as their minister of education without substantial experience in schools. Even here in the U.S. there are certain cabinet secretaries that we would be appalled to find out did not have a background in their field. Could you imagine an Attorney General without a law degree? Or a Secretary of Defense without military experience (see Dick Cheney)? What makes this even more unusual is Arne Duncan’s seeming pride in not having an education degree. For example, he has publicly stated that degrees in education are a waste of money and has implied their uselessness.

With a stronger education in education, Arne Duncan might have avoided repeating so many past education mistakes, especially those made by reformers who relied heavily on social efficiency for their ideas. He would have seen that these ideas were tried once before, generally failed, and later abandoned. Despite this, it seems that we will be stuck with more of this social efficiency-oriented education policy for the next two years. My hope is that the next president will appoint someone who has both practical and academic knowledge of education. This is vital in helping us actually improve education for all students.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Teaching the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Fifty years ago this week, Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act (he is pictured above shaking hands with Martin Luther King at the July 2, 1964 signing). One of the most important laws in U.S. history, the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Although often portrayed as part of an overarching story of perpetual progress, this act was not inevitable (from 1945 until 1957, Congress considered and failed to pass a civil rights bill). It was a result of decades of tireless civil rights work and lobbying by groups like the NAACP and the SCLC. For many students, this event is usually presented briefly wedged between the 1963 March on Washington and the 1964's Mississippi Freedom Summer. However, there is an important political history leading up to the signing of the bill, including a complex and developing relationship between MLK and LBJ, that needs a deeper examination.

Teachers should consider using the below resources with students, helping them answer the inquiry question: What was the largest influence on Congress passing, and LBJ's eventual signing, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Secondary Sources:

PBS: Civil Rights Act of 1866

Eisenhower Presidential Library: Civil Rights Act of 1957

Smithsonian: A Deeper Look at the Politicians Who Passed the Civil Rights Act

Book: Judgement Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America

National Archives: LBJ on Civil Rights

CNN: 1964 Civil Rights Act Fast Facts

The Atlantic Monthly: How LBJ Saved the Civil Rights Act
 NPR: Reagan, the South and Civil Rights

TIME: Seven Things to Know About the Civil Rights Act


Primary Sources:

Dirksen Congressional Center: Civil Rights Act Timeline

JFK Library: Kennedy's Speech Proposing a New Civil Rights Act

LBJ Presidential Library: 1963 Conversation Transcript Between Johnson and King

The King Center: 1964 Letter from King to Johnson

LBJ Presidential Library: June 1964 Phone Conversations

C-SPAN: June 1964 Phone Conversations Between Johnson and FBI Director Hoover

You Tube: Newsreel: Johnson Signing the Civil Rights Act

The American Presidency Project: 1964 Election Results





Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Teaching Tiananmen Square


Today marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the Tiananmen Square Protests, commonly referred to as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In April 1989, the student-led pro-democracy protests began after liberal reformer Hu Yaobang's death (Hu had been deposed after losing a power struggle with hardliners in the Communist Party). Over two months, more than a million protesters flocked to the square. A statue of the "Goddess of Democracy" was erected by the protesters. The protests were relatively peaceful, but that changed on the evening of June 3rd, when Chinese government leaders sent the military (some estimates put the number at 300,000 soldiers) into Tiananmen Square. One of the most profound images of the massacre include the infamous picture titled the "Tank Man," which was taken on June 5th and became an international symbol for the rebellion. There is no accurate estimate of how many protesters died that day (one widely used estimate is 186 deaths, while others argue it could be in the thousands). There is no mention of the event in Chinese textbooks, but one museum in Hong Kong is trying to preserve the historical record of the event for the Chinese people.

The Chinese government's overwhelming military response to the protests and widescale censorship of the event matched with large scale economic reforms have suppressed any subsequent social protest movements. Today, protest and dissent continue to be repressed in China. This anniversary puts an international spotlight on a nation that has over 1,000 political prisoners (including the routine censorship and sometimes imprisonment of artist Ai Weiwei), tight security this week in Tiananmen Square to prevent any commemorations of the 1989 protest, as well as censorship of websites about the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The Tiananmen Square Protests should be a central part of any unit on modern Asian in world history courses. Using the below list of primary and secondary sources, teachers should consider having students answer the following inquiry questions: "Should the Tiananmen Square Protests be remembered as a justified social movement for democratic reform or the military defending the nation against violent counter-revolutionary elements?"


Primary Sources:

The National Security Archive: Documents from Tiananmen Square Protests

Chinese Government Position: It is Necessary to Take a Clear-Cut Stand Against Disturbances

Tiananmen Square Protesters Position: Tiananmen Square Declaration of Human Rights

Interview with Student Leader and Protester Chai Ling

The Atlantic Monthly: Images of Tiananmen Square Protests

New York Times: Archival News Records of Tiananmen Square Protests

TIME Magazine: News Archives of Tiananmen Square

Modern History Sourcebook: China Since World War II

Primary Sources: Tiananmen Square Protests


Secondary Sources:

PBS Frontline: Tank Man

The Gate of Heavenly Peace Film

Moving the Mountain Film

BBC: The Lost Voices of Tiananmen

History Channel: Tiananmen Square Declassified


Lesson Plans on Tiananmen Square:

Indiana University East Asian Studies Center

National Consortium for Teaching About Asia

The China Project

CNN International

PBS Frontline

Civic Voices



Building a Constructivist Practice: A Longitudinal Study of Beginning History Teachers


My research is published in the latest issues of The Teacher Educator. Consider giving it a read.

Building a Constructivist Practice: A Longitudinal Study of Beginning History Teachers
The Teacher Educator
Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 97-115

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08878730.2014.888252

Abstract: This longitudinal interpretative case study examined the constructivist beliefs and related practices of four secondary history teachers from their teacher preparation through their first year in the classroom. The results of this study showed that issues of classroom control were major barriers for the implementation of constructivist-oriented practices. However, contrary to some previous studies, learning to teach in transmission-oriented contexts did not result in the diminishing of the teachers' constructivist beliefs and in some ways affirmed their constructivist beliefs. Furthermore, the teachers expressed that a lack of practical tools hindered their ability to better and more frequently use constructivist-oriented practices in their classrooms. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Teaching Brown v. Board of Education: 60 Years Later


(Top) Linda Brown attends an integrated school after the 1954 decision. (Bottom) A map showing the probability by county that a Black student has White classmates.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the Oliver Brown et. al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. There were commemorations of the Supreme Court decision around the country, including one featuring Attorney General Eric Holder. As most people know, this landmark Supreme Court case ruled that school segregation based on race was unconstitutional. However, as a historical event, it is important that social studies teachers help students critically examine the case.

Although Brown was an incredibly important legal step forward, numerous scholars have argued that its underlying purpose has never been fully achieved. Despite the initial increase of school integration, there is clear evidence that racial segregation continues to persist. In fact, the segregation of Latino children is now a hidden epidemic in the United States and in many states a high percentage of Black and White students attend racially segregated schools. Moreover, the Brown decision has led to a distorted belief among Americans that racial discrimination is no longer a systematic problem and was solved by the courts some time ago. This has recently manifested itself in several different ways, including the abandonment of school desegregation plans (for example, by the Court in Seattle and by the school board in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County), a growing popular nostalgia for a pre-Brown society, and some politicians (including here in Boston) showing a lack of support for school integration.

When teaching about Brown, it is crucial that teachers have students examine questions like: "Did Brown v. Board of Education achieve its intended goal of desegregating public schools?" and "Did the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education go far enough?" These lessons should be rooted not only in the past, but also in the legacy and shortcomings of Brown today.

Below are primary and secondary sources that teachers can use to help students examine the past and present of Brown:

Cornell Law School: Full text of the Brown v. Board of Education I court decision

Cornell Law School: Full text of the Brown v. Board of Education II court decision

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law: Brown overview

The Los Angeles Times: Brown headline story 1954

The National Archived: Brown case documents

The Nation: Coverage in The Nation of the Brown court case 1954

Oyez.org: Overview of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007)

Cornell Law School: Full text of the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007)

Teaching Tolerance: Segregation Today

USA Today: Education racial segregation map 2014

Speech: Eric Holder on the 60th Anniversary of Brown

The Atlantic: Brown Improved Education Opportunities for African Americans




Images: (Top) The Brown family: Linda, sister Cheryl, mother Leola, and father Oliver. (Bottom) Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nikie on the steps of the Supreme Court after the Brown ruling.

Friday, April 18, 2014

100th Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre: Teaching Workers' Rights


This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. Although this event should be an essential component of any U.S. history unit on industrialism, it is rarely taught in schools. Moreover, the 100th anniversary has not been widely covered in the mainstream media (although the Nation did recently run this excellent article).

The Ludlow Massacre showcases the poor conditions for workers at the turn of the 20th century and the importance of workers unions. John D. Rockefeller's Colorado Fuel and Iron had a major mine in Ludlow, Colorado. The ethnically diverse miners (mining rules were posted in 27 languages) and their families lived in a company town and survived on items purchased at the company stores, housing provided by the company, and medical attention from company doctors. Their lives were controlled almost completely by their employers and they lived in a state of wage slavery. Additionally, work conditions were extremely dangerous. Across the country, over 3,000 mine workers were killed in accidents between 1880 and 1910. Compounding these dangers, Colorado had only two mine inspectors

Yet, mining was a very profitable business for the owners. As such, owners had no interest in losing profit for the increased benefit and welfare of their employees. For instance, Rockefeller was worth $900 million in 1913 (Coincidentally, in that same year, he used $100 million of his wealth to create the Rockefeller Foundation for the "well-being of people throughout the world").

In September 1913, the Ludlow mine workers went on strike. They demanded the right to form a union, an 8 hour day, and an hourly wage. The striking workers and their families were forced from their homes and subsequently formed a tent city outside the mines. Labor activist Mother Jones even visited striking workers to support their cause and was jailed. To continue operations, Rockefeller brought in replacement workers or scabs. Families were dramatically strained. After months of striking, tensions were high. Rockefeller claimed the strike was illegal and the workers had no right to their jobs. If the strikers used violence, the governor Elias Ammons might have the authority to clear the camp.

The historical record is unclear who fired first, but on April 20th, 1914, shots were fired between the armed soldiers and strikers. Initially, eight people were killed (five strikers, a child, a bystander, and a soldier). The Colorado National Guard used machine guns to fire on the tent city for almost 14 hours and they eventually burned the camp. As a result, 2 women and 11 children hiding were burned to death in the fire. By the end of violence, 26 people were dead. In response, miners attacked nearby coal company facilities. Woodrow Wilson would later send in the U.S. Army to protect the coalfields. Although the strike would continue into the fall of 1914, lack of funds weakened the strike.

The aftermath included more calls from Progressives to reform labor laws. With the outbreak of World War I (and the U.S. entrance into the war in 1917), the important workers rights legacy of the Ludlow Massacre faded. However, it can even be argued that the Ludlow Massacre would later influence the New Deal policies of the Depression.

In teaching this event to students, I would suggest the following as the inquiry question: Was the Colorado National Guard and Rockefeller Company justified in breaking up the Ludlow Strike? 

I have created this inquiry-based lesson plan for teachers interested in teaching the Ludlow Massacre: www.christophercmartell.com/LudlowMassacreActivityMartell.pdf



 

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Massachusetts Social Studies Standards Are Long Overdue



As a social studies teacher educator, I spend a considerable amount of time helping future teachers navigate the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework (which I will refer to hereafter as the social studies standards). Despite the conservative Fordham Institute’s recent praise for the standards (they gave them an A-), the honest truth is that Massachusetts' social studies standards are in need of a major revision. The current standards do not address the the academic needs of students. Rather than having students analyze and evaluate evidence, the social studies standards focus almost exclusively on having students "describe" and "explain" (analysis does not appear until the high school grades). In general, the document is a list of history and social science facts and lacks a strong emphasis on writing from sources (an important shift in the new Common Core) or using disciplined inquiry.

The Massachusetts social studies standards have a complex and political history. For a full background, read my previous post on its problematic development. In short, before 2003, Massachusetts had a social studies framework that emphasized U.S. history in the elementary grades and world history in the secondary grades. Influenced by the events of September 11th, Massachusetts revised its social studies standards to focus more on U.S. history across the grades.

There are dilemmas raised by the current content of the Massachusetts social studies standards. First, the heavy emphasis on U.S. history is problematic. As a long-time U.S. history teacher, I know the importance of students understanding the nation's past. Yet, in an increasingly globalized world, it is essential that Massachusetts' students better understand the world outside the United States and this requires significant study in world history, geography, comparative government, and global economics. It demands that students have a strong understanding of diverse cultural perspectives. Ideally, students would learn U.S. history integrated within larger global history courses. 

Second, social studies in the early elementary grades lacks content coherence. The curriculum is poorly organized and leaves teachers with minimal guidance on how to connect topics. Moreover, there is an unusual emphasis on folktales and stories about Americans (which seems much more appropriate for language arts), a heavy emphasis on patriotism and following rules (with no mention of democracy or activism), and a general lack of world history, geography, and civics. 

Third, the content in the standards are heavily Eurocentric, which does not reflect the growing racial and ethnic diversity of Massachusetts' students. The vast majority of historical people listed are of European decent. People of color are depicted in terms of a Black and White binary (there is limited inclusion of American Indians, Latinos, and Asian Americans). Numerous figures and events significant to the history of people of color are absent. There is no mention of slave revolts, sharecropping, Geronimo, Battle of Wounded Knee, Angel Island, the Zoot Suit Riots, César Chávez (is only included as an optional famous American in Grade 1), 20th century race riots, the Black Panthers, or Vincent Chin. As such, many students have a difficult time connecting to the material or worse find the social studies they learn in school culturally irrelevant.

Despite these flaws, my main contention with the current standards is not with its content. Rather, the standards prevent social studies from moving beyond fact-recall. The current social studies framework is predominately a list of names, dates, places, and events from history (with some integration of economics, civics, and geography, especially in the elementary grades). If Massachusetts takes the needed steps to revise its social studies standards, I would suggest they consider the following:

1. Future standards should focus on argumentation and inquiry, which will help transform social studies teaching and student learning. Content is important, but developing thinking is more important. Content is the vehicle for learning to assess evidence, develop arguments, and understand multiple perspectives. However, the exclusive focus on content (even with an uncertain high-stakes test in social studies) has resulted in teachers spending less time developing their students' thinking skills and more time covering an extensive lists of facts (which the breadth of the current standards make it almost impossible to cover). I have seen this in practice at the various elementary and secondary classrooms that I visit. More often than not, social studies lessons are focused on helping students memorize names, dates, places, and events (albeit, often in engaging ways). It is less common to see students engaging in historical, civic, geographic, or economic thinking or making arguments rooted in history and social science evidence. 

2. Future social studies standards should have content coherence and use a spiral curriculum design. In its current format, students rarely revisit similar concepts at deeper levels as they progress through the grades. Partially a result of the current curriculum being a jammed-packed content list, students may only "cover" certain content during one specific grade and never learn about it again. This is especially true for the elementary grades. For the most part, each grade's curriculum does not build on or connect to the previous or future year's curriculum. In elementary and middle school, there is little to no mention of argumentation (and when it is mentioned, it is to assess the arguments of others). Inquiry is absent throughout the document. Yet, there is substantial evidence from the research on social studies education that elementary and middle school students can engage in historical thinking and argumentation. Furthermore, Massachusetts may find it helpful to focus on understanding  community (family, city/town, state, nation, world) in K-1, as many other states do. This would help create a foundation for future learning in social studies. Currently, the early grades are a hodgepodge of holidays, symbols, folktales, and "famous Americans." There is little opportunity for making judgements or discovering through the social studies. The current social studies standards generally underestimate the cognitive abilities of young learners.

3. Teachers should be participating in the design of any new social studies standards and feedback should be solicited from teachers statewide. This would ensure more support and an stronger transition from the old standards. Social studies teachers in Massachusetts are already aware of the Common Core and many have taken professional development on the implementation of Common Core's language arts standards in social studies. This has rightfully caused many social studies teachers to become concerned that social studies is being "left behind" and marginalized in the curriculum (especially in Massachusetts, where the history and social science MCAS has been suspended for years). Additionally, Massachusetts has a large number of exemplary social studies teachers whose expertise is an asset. There are many social studies  teachers across the state who use inquiry in their classrooms and volunteers can be solicited from the secondary departments and elementary schools that are known for their innovative social studies practices. This is a moment to empower the state's social studies teachers. It could shift the growing sentiment that "social studies doesn't matter" to it being a crucial subject in students' college, career, and civic development. This has certainly been the case for science in Massachusetts, which continues to receive a strong spotlight on the state-level.

Massachusetts would not be alone in revising its social studies standards. Last year, in cooperation with the major professional organizations in history, geography, economics, and civics, the National Council for the Social Studies drafted “The College, Career, and Civic Life(C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (C3).” C3 was designed to help guide states in re-writing their social studies standards by balancing new demands from the Common Core State Standards and core tenets of the various disciplines in social studies. This framework offers a strong foundation for building new Massachusetts social studies standards. This is the same process that the state is using to revise its science standards in light of the recently released Next Generation Science Standards (a science companion of C3). 

There are two paths for Massachusetts to take on social studies education: Stay on the current trajectory, where social studies students spend most of their time memorizing, rather than thinking, and the subject continues to be marginalized. Or, redesign the curriculum to support the growing need for students to become informed citizens who can construct arguments based on evidence and engage in inquiry and problem solving. This will require a shift in the state-mandated curriculum. Which path will it be? 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Returning from Hiatus Soon...


As you may have noticed, I have been on a blogging hiatus. Two of my studies were accepted to the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting and I have been quite busy writing up the final papers before the deadline. Expect new posts sometime soon. See you in Philly at AERA 2014!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Happened to Elementary Social Studies? ...And How Can We Get It Back?


Recently, an experienced elementary teacher in a local urban district asked me for some ideas for motivating elementary teachers to teach social studies, especially when it is not tested in Massachusetts and teachers feel they have to "squeeze it in" with the new Common Core standards. I am posting my response in hopes that it will encourage other elementary teachers to make the case that social studies is more important than ever. Here is my response (with a pseudonym):

Dear Linda,  

From speaking with other teachers and our preservice teachers, I have become incredibly concerned about the lack of social studies being done at the K-5 level (especially in urban schools). Sadly, it shouldn’t be hard to squeeze in, especially since it should be a taught daily like math, English, and science. In an age of Common Core (whether we like it or not), social studies needs to be a regular part of the elementary curriculum. Part of the problem is that most people see social studies as learning stories and memorizing names, dates, and places. However, it should be taught as inquiry and argumentation, which fits in well with the major themes found in Common Core. I have attached two nice handouts, one from the Boston Public Schools and one from the state of Oregon, on the shifts in ELA found in Common Core. Both offer the keys to arguing that social studies is not only needed, but vital for students to do well on the Common Core assessments (PARCC, Smarter Balanced). If you need to tie more social studies into Common Core, the best argument is that social studies serves many needs in the ELA/literacy portion of Common Core, particularly a focus on informational texts, text-based answers, and increased writing from sources. More importantly, beyond Common Core, social studies is a vital school subject in helping students understand their histories, develop as citizens in a democratic society, and understand the world and cultures around them, not to mention learn to reason and make arguments based on evidence. 

To help with ways to connect all the social studies disciplines to Common Core, I would recommend looking at the recently released C3 Framework. Supported by national history and social science organizations (including the NCSS), an outstanding writing team created this framework to help guide states revise their social studies frameworks (much like science groups created the Next Generation Science Standards). It is aligned with Common Core and it breaks it down by social studies disciplines (history, government/civics, geography, economics) and includes student goals for grade levels (2nd, 5th, 8th, and 12th). My hope is this will be the document that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education uses whenever they decide to revise the state's History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

I hope this helps with your attempt to get teachers to teach social studies even though it isn't tested.