Who cares about History anyway?

Apparently NOT the MA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which voted against adding History to the list of subjects being tested through MCAS. ELA and Math were joined by science, but not history.


As noted in the above linked op-ed by Robert Kostka, a retired social studies teacher (formerly of the Bridgewater-Raynham school district):

In the fiscal crisis, Bridgewater-Raynham initially eliminated all its middle-school social-studies teachers and relied on other faculty to teach social studies. Several other districts did the same thing.  

This happens in many other districts – where people with training in science or ELA are just barely managing to keep ahead of the kids to whom they’re supposed to be teaching history!

In addition to the fact that this is a disservice to the parents whose taxpayer dollars are supposed to be funding a quality education for their children, the larger problem with this failure is the damage it does to our society and our mission to help kids become good citizens. As the writer eloquently notes:

But we must recognize that in a nation not bound by common racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds, it is the public schools that educate upcoming generations about the democratic ideals that bind us together as a nation.

By walking away from making passage of a U.S. history test a high-school graduation requirement, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has unwittingly turned its back on one of the central roles that public education was designed to play.

Many people don’t understand the point of MCAS and may think, so what? Not adding a history test just means less schedule shifting. But that logic misses the point – this is not about MCAS – this is about taking learning seriously. History is not a subject that just anybody can or should teach– good history teachers bring the material alive for their students, by engaging them, helping them get at the essential, philosophical and maybe even theological questions, questions about human nature, about the rise and fall of empires, about global-scale human depravity like we saw in 1930s and 40s Europe or in North Korea now, and among Communist regimes in Russia and China, as well as triumphs like we’ve seen in the founding of America, the leader of the free world because it is rooted in ideas and ideals– and has even transcended its own historical racial barriers.

There are so many amazing learning experiences that our children will be deprived of if we lose our sense of the importance of history, of the importance of approaching history in a serious way in the classroom. Let’s hope the Board’s decision does not become a trend.    

About mdawson

  • Ask a teenager to find Israel on a map. Ask a teenager to state the qualifications to become the President of the USA. Ask a teenager to explain the Confederate point of view in the Civil War. Enough said!

    MD..stick with the education posts. They resonate with some of us and your expertise is helpful.  

  • edfactor

    There is no subject more important than history. Thank God that parents have local libraries and the Internet. They can teach their children history themselves, as I plan to. Such an important task should not be left to unionized government employees in any case.

  • When you speak of having science and ELA teachers barely staying in front of their students with regard to their new history teaching requirements:

    In addition to the fact that this is a disservice to the parents whose taxpayer dollars are supposed to be funding a quality education for their children

    You also leave out that these teachers will be so busy that they will start falling behind in their other classes, you know the ones that they were actually hired to teach.  It is already a disgrace how far out of date many textbooks and educators are in the science fields, not all, but far too many.  Science is rapidly evolving and many of the textbooks from even 5 years ago contain inaccuracies with today’s knowledge.  Having these teachers focus on history rather than science makes this even worse.

    We can leave for another post the impact that not requiring masters degrees in science and math to teach those subjects while paying more for unrelated degrees has on elementary and secondary science and math education.

  • I’ve always been a bit of a softie for history, civics, and what we basically call social studies nowadays.

    Heck, as a kid I was the Southeastern Mass Geography Bee Champion (and I maintain that I’d have won State if they didn’t screw up the question rotation — but I digress:)

    I ended up getting my BA in history from UMass Dartmouth as well as my MA in history from UMass Boston.

    My Master’s thesis was 114 pages (not the customary 60, heck that was my 1st chapter!) and it focused on a local, yet ignored & neglected, “Founding Father” — Paul Cuffe of Westport.  I’ve donated free copies of my thesis to area libraries, museums, historical associations, and descendants.

    Following up on my thesis I’ve given lectures before the National Park Service, consulted in an espiode of History Detectives on PBS, had my name inserted into the Congressional Record, had both Dartmouth & Westport declare town holidays for Cuffe’s 250th birthday & even got the governor to do the same back in January 2009.

    I’m state certified to teach social studies at the middle & high school levels.

    My point isn’t to recount a resume of sorts but to simply show evidence that yes, history matters & it matters greatly to me.

    That having been said, this recent decision is a travesty that should not stand!  If we are going to have MCAS it should absolutely include social studies!

  • Spelling, grammar, chivalry and a whole host of other things that are being lost as people become focused on letting people do their work for them.

    In just the last 24 hours I have:

    – read a report with asses in it when it should have said assets.  The response I got was it passed spell check;

    – had a couple of cases where people want to “insure” participation rather than “ensure”;

    – Been driven to tears by multiple uses of “irregardless” (personal pet peeve of mine) which is not a word, try using regardless you save 2 letters and use a real word; and

    – read untold sentences that ended with a preposition (yes, I know it doesn’t “sound” right but you’re writing).

    I am afraid that history will soon be sent to a similar end with people not bothering to learn history as you can always “google” the answer.  Good God, history does not have answers it has lessons.  Its these lessons that are being lost to a generation that will face immense challenges against which the lessons of history may be helpful.  I can only hope that some will continue to learn history so that the lessons will not be lost forever.

  • This is the type of issue that immediately has my sympathy… but then I think twice about it.

    Why do I get a feeling that if history was included in MCAS the questions and study guidelines would be created by a bunch of radical educrats hell bent on PC revisionist history.

    I can see the questions now:

    George Washington was:

    A) Racist Slaveholder

    B) Sexist Mysoginist

    C) Christian Homophobe

    D) Insecure Repressed Gun Lover

    E) All of the Above

  • to wear Mickey Mouse ears.

    Unfortunately, David, your vacation comparisions are the provervial apples & oranges.  King Richard’s Faire – and similar venues across the country – ENCOURAGE you to come in period costume.  It’s part of the fun & adds to the atmosphere.

    Disney doesn’t expect that nor do they necessarily want it (try going in full costume & you’ll be tossed out – happened to Michael Moore & Crackers “the Corporate Crime Fighting” Chicken).  However, come to think of it I did put on a Hawaiian shirt for my Polynesian luau dinner.