Mike North: Georgia history standards: one thumb up - one thumb dow | Local columnist
Given the state of history education in public schools, revising history standards in Georgia could be a step in the right direction.
Too few students, and adults for that matter, can “use oral, written, and visual communication to determine if information is fact or opinion, is biased or nonbiased.”
And it would be nice if more people could use “excerpts from The Federalist Papers, [to] chart similarities and differences between the U.S. Constitution and previous forms of government.” Both of these exercises come from the revised standards.
The new U.S. history standards tackle some important ideas behind our nation’s founding — the separation of powers, state’s rights, and the founders’ desire for limited government. The new standards require students to look at the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and compare representative democracy with monarchy.
The revised curriculum calls for students to “read recent Supreme Court cases that deal with separation of church and state and evaluate the decisions, including the majority and minority opinions. Discuss why separation of church and state is still a viable issue in the United States.”
In short, the U.S. history standards address not only the facts of American history, but also the ideas that led to and sprang from those facts.
The government social studies standards also contain legitimate expectations.
The proposal would require that “the student demonstrate knowledge of the political philosophies that shaped the development of United States constitutional government by reading and discussing the key ideas of limited government and the rule of law in the Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the English Bill of Rights, and reading and examining the writings of Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu.”
Such studies, should they be adequately implemented in the classroom, would do more to restore history and civics to its rightful place in the curriculum than anything else I can imagine.
World history also has some solid initiatives.
The role of European missionaries in exploration is covered, along with the development of scientific thought and freedom in Europe. The standards address the Enlightenment, and the role of nationalism and religion in European imperialism. All of these are topics that merit study.
Some critics have denounced the Euro-centric focus of the new standards.
This aspect of the revision does not worry me — I welcome it. At a time when western civilization is under constant attack, I find an effort to re-affirm the principles behind that civilization encouraging.
If western civilization has nothing better to offer than any other culture, why do immigrants from Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East, and Africa besiege every western nation? And if those cultures are superior, why aren’t we flocking to their shores?
Not all is rosy in revision land, however.
In an effort to focus the curriculum, the designers have decided that nothing prior to 1500 A.D. will be included.
That is much akin to deciding that the key to improving our math curriculum is to start every student off with algebra.
While I laud the state for bringing Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu into the classroom, it is impossible for students to digest such writings without first being exposed to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. A student who has never read Aristotle would never know that many of the writings of Thomas Hobbes were rebuttals of Aristotle’s teachings.
Part of the problem with our curriculum is time, or the lack of it. According to state school superintendent Kathy Cox, a recent study found that it would take 23 years to adequately cover the existing history curriculum.
And it gets worse each year as another year’s worth of history is added to the mix. As Ronald Reagan said, “History is no easy subject. Even in my day it wasn’t, and we had so much less of it to learn then.”
A local science coordinator with a Ph.D. told me that block scheduling was a hindrance to some aspects of science instruction. “Effectively teaching a full year’s biology curriculum in the space of one block semester can at times be an overwhelming task,” he said.
What makes history any different? If we recognize that we don’t have enough time to teach all that we should, why not get some of that time back before we start messing with the standards?
Let’s abolish block scheduling, teach a year’s worth of history each year, and see where that gets us.
Then, if we still need to revise the standards, we can. And we might be able to do so without ignoring some of the most important and interesting epochs in the history of the nation, the west and the world.Mike North is a professional land surveyor, amateur historian and former member of the Walker County school board. For past columns and contact information, visit In My Humble Opinion.