I went looking for a different kind of standard. We have the Common Core State Standards, which cover mathematics and language arts. We also have the Next Generation Science Standards, already adopted by six states. But what about history standards? (And the arts? And civics? And common sense?) What I found was the National Center for History in the Schools’ National Standards for History from 1996 and the National Council for Social Studies’ national curriculum, updated in 2010.
In this humble writer’s opinion, it is important that students have a decent knowledge of history, as well as a basic ability to understand the consequences of historic events on contemporary issues. For example, it’s important to understand how the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France after World War I, in conjunction with Great Britain’s Balfour Declaration, effectively set in motion 100 years of turmoil in the Middle East that the United States still finds itself embroiled in today. It’s okay if you don’t know Sykes, Picot, or Balfour. Or the exact dates. But if I mention that these agreements carved up the Middle East between France, Great Britain, and a few Arabian princes and sultans, then you’d understand their significance. History is more than just names and dates; it is also the whys and hows of our present day.
But there are no nationally-agreed-upon history standards. Sometime in the future, there may be. For now, I would simply urge teachers to do everything within their power to deliver the strongest foundation possible for our nation’s next generation of great leaders. Whether you’re thinking of students who will be great scientists, wonderful advertising executives, brilliant engineers, or decent biologists, they’ll each need to know some history, how it impacts their daily lives, and what they can do on their own to make sure it doesn’t repeat itself.
What do you think?
2 thoughts on “History Without Standards”
Personally, I have some very strong opinions on K-12 social studies education. I believe that a lot of the issue evolves around when to teach what, and not necessarily national standards.
Additionally, I will also note that in many cases national standards are unnecessary. If you teach in the Southwest, much more time is spent learning about Cesar Chavez than Martin Luther King Jr. Some schools even go to school on MLK Day and take off on Cesar Chavez’s birthday because it is more important to them. We see that certain issues are highlighted differently across the nation. In Wyoming and Colorado a lot of time is put into teaching about the Ute, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne, but not necessarily the Iroquois or Seminoles.
I think the key to teaching history and the other social studies, civics/government, economics and geography, is best done when teaching big picture ideas and concepts. Therefore, it is really all a matter of creating a foundation to build upon.
For instance here is how I advocate what to teach per grade:
1st Grade: Teach about family, the family unit, and the home. Geography can include basics such as a route home.
2nd Grade: Teach about the community. This involves what a community is, and different services such as police, fire, and hospitals etc. Geography includes learning about a neighborhood.
3rd Grade: Teach about state and national geography. Focus on the history of your state, i.e. Texas history, or Florida history. Begin teaching basic government, who is the president, the governor, etc.
4th Grade: (With the previous knowledge of National geography) Teach American History. Continue to review national geography, expand it to European geography, or wherever else is relevant to teaching US History, i.e where is England, or Russia. (This doesn’t have to be real in depth, just what was the revolution, what happened to cause the civil war, etc.)
5th Grade: Begin learning world geography. Review major civilizations under World History, i.e Rome, Greece, Egypt etc. Supplement with what has America learned from these civilizations. Teach personal finance, such as saving and what taxes are.
6th Grade: 6th grade students should study geography, both physical and world exclusively. Teaching cultures is a large part of this. I also strongly believe in teaching personal finance during this grade. Not just saving, but understanding cost for things such as college, and learning that a vehicle has other costs than just the purchase price. This will lead up to teaching 7th/8th grades.
7th Grade: 7th Grade should focus, as it did in 4th, upon American history, with strong focus on knowledge of the Presidents. I also believe that 7th grade should take an in depth look at each US State. Basic government should begin here too, such as checks and balances, and what senators and congressmen do.
8th Grade: 8th Grade should focus on World History, and should be a full survey of World History, and reinforce World regional geography learned in 6th grade.
(I want to note here that it is easier to teach full geography in 6th grade, than to teach what you need in 7th and 8th grade. Some state require teaching geography in the 6th grade because it builds the foundation of where places are, so that it doesn’t have to be done in the midst of teaching about a specific conflict or issue)
9th Grade: 9th Grade should be much like 6th grade only more rigorous, than 7th.
10th Grade: 10th Grade should focus on World History and be highly rigorous, or more so than 8th grade.
11th Grade: 11th grade should focus on US History and be more rigorous than 7th grade.
As far as high school goes, Economics, Government/Civics, and State and Local government/History should be their own classes.
Sorry for the long post.
I absolutely appreciate your thoughtful post, Jeremiah. Thanks for taking the time to explain your ideas.