N.E.H. Sets Center For History Studies

By Robert Rothman — October 07, 1987 3 min read

Washington--Officials of the National Endowment for the Humanities last week announced plans to establish a $1.5-million center to examine how history is taught and learned in elementary and secondary schools.

“Evidence shows that the content of history courses in today’s elementary and secondary schools is not well presented, understood, or absorbed,” said Lynne V. Cheney, chairman of the neh and author of a scathing indictment of precollegiate humanities education issued in August. “This new history research center will help us to further understand why this is happening and to discover ways to make improvements.”

Ms. Cheney said the proposed center, to be housed in a higher-education institution or nonprofit organization, would help identify effective teaching methods, evaluate textbooks and supplemental materials, and assess the training and continuing education of teachers.

In her Congressionally mandated report, entitled “American Memory: A Report on the Humanities in the Nation’s Schools,” Ms. Cheney argued that, by emphasizing skills rather than content, schools are responsible for “startling gaps in knowledge” among students. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1987.)

“In our schools today we run the danger of proscribing our own heritage,” she wrote.

In addition to recommending reforms that schools could undertake, Ms. Cheney said at the time that the endowment would be announcing several initiatives to help improve humanities instruction.

Cooperative Agreement

The proposed center is the first of its kind to be established by the humanities endowment. Its division of educational programs currently funds institutes for teachers and administrators; conferences; collaborative projects linking teachers with scholars; and study grants.

The new center would be similar to four research centers being established by the Education Department. The department is currently negotiating with bidders to set up centers to study the teaching of mathematics, literature, science, and all elementary-school subjects.

Unlike the ed centers, which will be funded for five years, the neh center would have a budget of up to $500,000 a year for three years. Like the department’s centers, though, it would be funded under a cooperative agreement, which would give the endowment greater control over the research than it could exercise under a grant.

The endowment will work with the center to design particular projects and disseminate research findings to schools, teachers, scholars, and administrators, Ms. Cheney said.

‘Late, But Worth It’

Officials from humanities organizations praised the endowment’s action as long overdue.

“We are glad to see the federal government focusing on the content of the curriculum,” said Frances Haley, executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies. “This will help get new knowledge into the curriculum.”

Joan Hoff-Wilson, executive secretary of the Organization of American Historians, said that her group has applied to the endowment and other agencies several times over the past 10 years to establish a similar center, but never received funding.

“It’s a little late, but it’s well worth it,” said Ms. Hoff-Wilson, who is a professor of history at Indiana University. “The learned societies have been aware of the problem for years, but we got no encouragement from funding agencies.”

“It’s not that the concern hasn’t been there or the awareness hasn’t been there,” she added. “Now it’s gotten official sanction.”

The endowment will announce the competition for the proposed center this week in the Commerce Business Daily and in an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The deadline for applications is Dec. 8, 1987.

A version of this article appeared in the October 07, 1987 edition of Education Week as N.E.H. Sets Center For History Studies