a little bit of everything

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato

Thursday, July 28, 2005

In 1492....somebody sailed the ocean blue

I'm willing to bet that a large majority of Americans can identify that it was Christopher Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but can they identify other historical facts? That is the question.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) convened a hearing to determine why U.S. History is our worst subject. Author and historian David McCullough was the key witness at the hearing and expressed two major concerns: history text books, and teacher training. As a middle school history teacher I can tell you that these are indeed two of the biggest problems when teaching history. Take a look at several different history books and you'll see that they're all the same, very basic and very boring descriptions of various events throughout the course of American history. Descriptions that barely scratch the surface and don't tell the whole story. McCullough has evaluated school history books and found another problem and trend, "typeface in those books is growing larger, the illustrations are more lavish, and the content is shrinking." It seems as though the textbook companies are assuming students don't like to read, or aren't good readers. But while they're cutting content and increasing text size the actual language of the text remains too challenging, making what little information they've included difficult for students to comprehend.

One way to side step this huge textbook issue is to improve teacher training. McCullough claims, "Too many (teachers) have degrees in education and don't really now the subject they are teaching." This statement is partially true. At the elementary level most teachers take several classes in a variety of subject areas, middle school teachers also take classes in a variety of subject areas but a majority of those classes focus on the subject they're teaching, making them endorsed to teach that subject (hopefully giving them some expertise in that area). Because elementary and middle school teachers typically have the same certificate (k-9) most elementary teachers also have an endorsement in a certain area. High school teachers typically major in a specific subject, theoretically making them experts in that subject. We all know it doesn't always work out that way. We've all had teachers who have very little expertise of anything. This puts the state of education in a tricky position. If teachers aren't trained properly how can they teach properly? Colleges need to ensure they are providing their students with enough opportunities in their area of study. I took nearly 30 hours of history classes in college but only half of those classes have proved to be beneficial to me in my teaching.

These two main issues collide when teachers with insufficient training depend on their textbooks to do the teaching for them. Unfortunately there are still teachers out there who teach by the book and only by the book. I've worked with a few of these teachers, it isn't pretty. History is a great subject to teach outside of the book. There are so many other things you can do with your students; use a variety of resources to see different perspectives, perform reenactments, have discussions and debates, even watch a movie. The possibilities are endless. If we make history more exciting and meaningful it won't be our worst subject for much longer.


  • At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Josh Hinton-Ryder, West Hollywood, Calif said…

    When you have a president celebrating his "C student" status, it's no wonder the state of education in this country is so bad.

  • At 11:21 AM, Anonymous brian said…

    kudos noel.
    as a fellow teacher i love this post. you hit the nail on the head.

  • At 11:34 AM, Anonymous dennis parker said…

    My partner is a teacher here in the Miami area and I am forwarding this post to him. Great analysis.

  • At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Hope Collingworth, Austin TX said…

    Good for you for being a teacher, Noel. If your writing is any indication, your students are lucky to have such a teacher.

  • At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My son has boy scouts, softball practice, basketball practice, football practice, student council, not to mention church choir. He depends on these things for a college scholarship. When is he supposed to find time for something like history? Yawn!

  • At 1:42 PM, Blogger Wayne said…

    Football, basketball, baseball, etc. ... all for a college scholarship?


    If your son wants any chance at all of SUCEEDING once he's in college, then he'd better have some high school education to go along with the sports.

    Because they'll yank away any scholarship if he can't perform academically!

    What an idiotic way to raise a kid. You epitomize everything that is wrong with American parents today.


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