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History Teachers Organize To Air Their Views

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Washington--Seeking a stronger voice in their profession and a vehicle for improving instruction, some 120 precollegiate history teachers have formed a new organization to promote the interests of K-12 teachers within national historical associations.

At its organizational meeting, held late last month at the American Historical Association's convention here, the new group--calling it4self the Organization of History Teachers--agreed to form committees to develop curricula for American, European, and world history classes, and to write a scope-and-sequence guide for history instruction.

The documents will carry the imprimatur of the major historical associations, which have not thus far played an active role in K-12 curriculum development, according to the oht's president.

Meetings of the aha and the Organization of American Historians, said Marjorie Wall Bingham, a teacher at Minnesota's St. Louis Park High School, "are largely designed for college teachers."

"Increasingly, high-school teachers have gone to these meetings and found that there were not groups to associate with, or special meetings for them," she said.

Other organizations with stronger emphases on precollegiate education, such as the National Council for the Social Studies, have also failed to meet the needs of these teachers, Ms. Bingham added.

"Teachers interested in history would not necessarily go to the ncss convention," she said. "These teachers see themselves primarily as history teachers, not social-studies teachers."

Earl Bell, a teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory School and vice president of the oht, said that in response to fears about creating a national curriculum, thegroup's committees would propose only broad outlines of what should be taught.

"We should go for the basic questions and concepts," he said. "We're not dictating a rigid curriculum. We should crawl before we do something grand."

But the new professional association will provide history teachers with a channel through which they can respond to national reform proposals, Ms. Bingham noted.

In recent months, three major initiatives in the field have gotten under way: a $1.5-million center created by the National Endowment for the Humanities to study history instruction; the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, formed by the Educational Excellence Network; and the National Commission on the Social Studies, the first large-scale look at the social-studies curriculum in more than 50 years.

"Those are all coming from the top, telling teachers what to do," said Ms. Bingham, who is a member of the Bradley Commission. "There is not an easy way for teachers to react to what those groups are doing."

In the meantime, the oht is seeking greater representation for teachers within the aha and the oah Currently, only one precollegiate instructor holds an elective position in either of the two associations, Ms. Bingham said.

"If nothing else comes out of it, I hope the organization provides a greater sense that high-school teachers belong at the [associations'] conventions," she said.

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