Arkansas Historians Fear Short Shrift
Advocates for state and local history in Arkansas are worried that recent changes to the social studies standards might cause educators to stop teaching the state’s history.
A state law requires schools to offer a unit on Arkansas history in each elementary grade. Students must also take at least a semester of such history at some point in grades 7-12.
Until this school year, the state had a separate set of standards for Arkansas history. But, in the summer of 2006, a panel convened by the state education department decided to integrate Arkansas-history standards into the rest of the state’s social studies standards.
“The message that’s being sent to teachers is that [Arkansas history] is not significant,” said Tom Dillard, the president of the Arkansas History Education Coalition, based in Farmington, Ark. He said that’s a shame because it’s the one course where students can see history “being played out in their own communities.”
But Julie Thompson, an Arkansas Department of Education spokeswoman, said the move is part of an effort to make the state’s social studies standards more rigorous, and the Arkansas-history standards more age-appropriate.
“We were hearing that [Arkansas history] just kind of got lost ” when the standards were separate, she said.
Generally, states teach their own history as a separate course, typically in elementary or middle school, said Peggy Altoff, who until recently served as the president of the Silver Spring, Md.-based National Council for the Social Studies.
While not commenting on the Arkansas situation specifically, she said: “States are making decisions based on diminished time for social studies, and unfortunately, I think that state history gets rejected.”
Under the Arkansas standards effective with the start of the 2007-08 school year, schools can still teach Arkansas history as a separate unit, or they can integrate it along with other social studies content, Ms. Thompson said.
But Mr. Dillard said the law stipulates that Arkansas history be taught separately.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, plans to convene a panel to examine the new standards and address any concerns, Ms. Thompson said.
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