July 4, 2008

Hair-ripping time in standards review

It's a legal holiday, so no paid work is on the agenda. On the other hand, I feel that it's my duty as someone trained in history to review the draft social studies standards for Florida, so this falls under citizenship, not work. I'm looking at the third-grade benchmarks in world history, and this appears to follow the Core Knowledge Foundation approach to teaching ancient civilizations. "Identify the cultural characteristics of" ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and the Kingdom of Mali seems ambitious on the surface, but as an historian, my skin is crawling.

The fundamental problem is not with wanting to study ancient civilizations in third grade. I know that this is a fetish of E.D. Hirsch and his acolytes, but it's not an inherently bad thing for elementary school. The problem is that the benchmarks in the draft standards are all about cultural tourism and ignore historical thinking. The benchmarks imply that these societies were static and monolithic. (Among other things, they assume that there was such a thing as a single classical Greek culture... and polis.) Nothing in these benchmarks will help children develop skills in explaining change, weighing different explanations for history, or understanding that our views of history change as additional research occurs.

If the benchmarks for either world or U.S. history are consistently about factoids, I'm going to have a very long day (or several days, depending on how long this takes me). The deadline for public comments is the middle of the month (I think July 14).

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Posted in Education policy on July 4, 2008 9:51 AM |