Historians Urge Alliances With Schools To Implement Social-Studies Reforms

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Washington--Historians meeting here have urged increased collaboration between school social-studies teachers and their counterparts in colleges and universities as a first step to achieving the reforms set forth in two major reports issued this month.

Members of the American Historical Association and other professional societies met here Nov. 18 with representatives from teachers' groups. Their purpose was to begin mapping out strategies for implementing the recommendations of the Bradley Commission on History in Schools and the National Commission on Social Studies in Schools.

The two commissions' reports, which outline proposals for strengthening course content and improving instructional methods, have touched off the most extensive review of the social-studies curriculum in more than 50 years, according to those gathered here.

But Samuel Gammon, executive director of the aha, argued that the proposals can only be put in place if educators "bridge the gulf" between precollegiate and college-level instruction.

"One of the flaws in the education system is the fact that the education profession is integrated horizontally, not vertically," he said. "A high-school teacher in Pocatello has to have bonds with a teacher at the University of Idaho, as well as with a high-school teacher in Montana."

"Professional historians need to have a presence in the reform movement, as partners, not just as teach4ers of teachers," said Louis R. Harlan, president of the aha and the Organization of American Historians. "It is in their own interest to give attention to preparing students who will be in their classrooms."

'Tricks of the Trade'

To effect such "vertical integration," participants at the meeting discussed ways to change the reward structure at colleges and universities to encourage professors to conduct workshops with precollegiate teachers, review textbooks, and work with school boards on curricular reform.

If such efforts are successful, suggested Elaine W. Reed, administrative director of the Bradley commission, "we will see a lot of improvement in textbooks, technology, and state guidelines for what ought to be taught in social studies."

In addition, the joint projects will improve college history teaching, including the training of prospective teachers, Mr. Gammon said. Precollegiate teachers, he said, "usually have more classroom smarts, and can provide tricks of the trade" for the college-level instructors.

The participants agreed to meet again in April to consider additional steps that can be taken.

But Paul A. Gagnon, principal investigator for the Bradley commission, acknowledged that reaching their goals may be difficult.

"It won't be easy," he said. "It will take a long, careful transition period to try to achieve the dramatic change we believe has to come."

Bourbon or Diet Coke?

The meeting comes as national panels and states are conducting the most extensive review of the social-studies curriculum in more than 50 years, according to Mary A. McFarland, president of the National Council for the Social Studies.

"We see this as a tremendous era for the possibility of improvement in what we consider the major basic in the curriculum," she said.

Such efforts, Ms. McFarland added, grew out of a recognition that the current curriculum is outmoded for a world that is increasingly interdependent and a student body that is becoming more diverse.

The two reports, however, suggest differing paths to reform.

In its book, Historical Literacy, the Bradley commission, a 17-member panel of teachers and some of the most eminent scholars in the field, called for strengthening history instruction at all levels of precollegiate education.

"Over the years, history has been whittled away" in school curricula, said the panel's chairman, Kenneth T. Jackson, Mellon professor of history and social sciences at Columbia University. "We want to make it stronger and more central."

Since the panel's guidelines were released in a preliminary report issued in 1988, Ms. Reed said, two states--California and Arizona--have put in place curriculum frameworks that match the recommendations. Another 17 states have used the guidelines in developing new curricula or reviewing textbooks. (See map, this page.)

The National Commission on Social Studies, a 33-member panel of teachers, scholars, and policymakers, also recommended boosting history instruction at all levels.

But while history should be the "matrix or framework" of social-studies instruction, according to the panel's report, "Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century," concepts from the other social sciences must also be integrated throughout all social-studies courses. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

Chester E. Finn Jr., director of the Educational Excellence Network, which sponsored the Bradley commission, said that, while the two groups differ, both recommend substantial improvements over current practice.

"The differences are like the difference between straight bourbon and bourbon and water," he said. "What's in schools is more like Diet Coke."

Such differences are necessary to provide schools with a menu of options from which to choose, Ms. McFarland added.

Improvements "can happen in different, outstanding ways," she said.

Vol. 09, Issue 13

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