A group of history teachers and others will hold a news conference in Little Rock Saturday morning at the Darragh Center to object to the state Education Department's new Arkansas history framework which they say will result in the elimination of Arkansas history instruction in elementary and junior high schools and thus violate the law. They promise a solution.
UPDATE In response to the announced news conference, the Education Department's rapid response team has fired back. Here's the department's fact sheet. And a quote from Julie Thompson, department spokeswoman:
Mr. Dillard has not contacted the department but we have been hearing several accusations about the curriculum frameworks for Arkansas history that are based on misinformation. The department would have been happy to share this information with Mr. Dillard if he had contacted us, but no one at ADE heard from him. We are, however, in the process of scheduling a meeting with him at our initiative for next week.
UPDATE II: Go to the jump for commentary from a UALR faculty member. The issue here isn't only Arkansas history.
E-MAIL FROM UALR FACULTY MEMBER:
I would like to note that the new state social studies frameworks are not only threatening to Arkansas history. I've been a critic of these frameworks since they were posted on the Internet as part of the agenda for the State Board of Education meeting in April, and I think that we have a responsibility to try to change them.
Here are some additional problems I see with the frameworks:
1. No historians were enlisted to be part of the writing process (I was asked initially, but the dates were decided upon at such a late date that I had prior commitments). At the very minimum, experts should have been called in to proofread the standards. At least one has an historical error, requiring teachers to show how Hammaurabi's Code influenced the writing of the American Constitution.
2. While it is necessary to strengthen our students' knowledge of other subjects in the social studies, such as geography, civics, and economics, the incorporation of these subjects with historical content in the K-8 standards was not done so that they could be easily incorporated together in a logical way. For example, the development of the Federal Reserve system is supposed to be taught in 5th grade along with U.S. history up to Reconstruction - there is no need to introduce this content prior to reaching the point in history at which it would make sense.
3. The SLEs containing history content were not even arranged in chronological order, but by themes, making it very difficult for teachers with little content knowledge (again, in the K-8 standards) to know how to arrange them.
4. The K-2 curriculum is (especially the history standards), in my opinion, the most full of problems. It simply repeats the practice of teaching history only through holidays - Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, etc. get big play each year. Research has shown that students are much more capable of learning in-depth content at this age - why not engage them with history while they are interested? Teachers at K-2 are most likely to have the least amount of background to give the proper perspective to these holidays - and so we end up with another generation of students growing up on paper bag vests and feathered headbands for Thanksgiving plays.
With regard to Tom's concerns about Arkansas history, the K-4 curriculum does include SLEs related to Arkansas history, but they should have been reviewed by historians and incorporated in a meaningful way with the U.S. history, geography, civics, and economics. As it is, the content is not very rich, and it is not organized well with other social studies content.
The semester-long Arkansas history course (required by state law sometime in grades 7-12) does not have to be moved to high school. The Little Rock School District requires both social studies AND Arkansas history in 7th grade. For one semester, students have two social studies courses on their schedule. Students just lose an elective period, and schools need a teacher who can teach the Arkansas history course exclusively. Of course, this is likely to produce some staffing problems for smaller districts.
I've been working this summer with teachers in various parts of the state to try to write curriculum maps for next year that follow the new standards. It has been difficult to organize the frameworks in a meaningful way. Each year of social studies, grades K-8, is a fairly even split between geography, economics, civics, and history, forcing teachers to either organize units thematically, try to incorporate the geography, economics and civics into the chronological development of the history, or teach a unit on each of these subjects. Since elementary social studies is being squeezed from the curriculum due to testing in other areas, it is likely that teachers will simply teach from whatever text is adopted without trying to wade through and organize the frameworks into a meaninful course.
A very large problem is that new textbooks will not be adopted until next year, so schools will have one year to teach the new standards without textbook support. I know of no textbook that will cover the 5-8 standards well because the social studies is not logically organized. Likely, students will have a history textbook, and teachers will have to rely on ancillary materials to teach the geography, civics, and economics (this will be more expensive for schools as well).
The framework writing/ textbook adoption process needs to be changed. The entire process as well as the integration of social studies, K-8, was dictated by the state department without input by historians or those who train teachers. The teachers involved worked very hard, but were not allowed to change the system or predetermined structure of the frameworks.
I strongly support this movement to overturn the frameworks, and I hope that all history departments discuss this at their department meetings so that we can present a united front. The frameworks are posted online at this website:
Kristin Dutcher Mann
Assistant Professor of History and Social Studies Education Coordinator
University of Arkansas at Little Rock