Tag Archives: curriculum

Singer: Don’t know much about—history, geography or civics.

Don’t Know Much About – History, Geography or Civics
By Alan Singer

In April 1943, as the United States prepared to invade Nazi dominated Europe and hopefully rebuild the continent on democratic foundations, the nation was shook, at least mildly, by a study that showed a tremendous “ignorance of U.S. History” by college freshman (Benjamin Fine, “Ignorance of U.S. History Shown By College Freshman,” The New York Times, April 4, 1943, p. 1). A survey of 7,000 incoming students at 36 colleges and universities across the country exposed a “vast fund of misinformation on many basic facts.” Adding to the national concern was that most of these students had studies either American history, government, or social studies while in high school. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the colleges and universities did not require a United States history class to earn an undergraduate degree. For a week, the issue made the front page of the New York Times and was even debated in the United States Senate. Then it quietly faded from public attention, until it reappeared in 1976, 1987, and 2002 when new test scores were released (Alan Singer, “Past as Prologue, History vs. Social Studies,” Social Education, 68 (2), February 2004, pp. 158-160.).

People somehow thought that saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school and singing the National Anthem at baseball games were enough to promote patriotism and respect for democracy, that is until the next Cold War or War on Terror scare.

In recent weeks, ignorance of United States history and the functioning of the U.S. government made the front pages again when a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam showed that among other academic weaknesses, “Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights” and “only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.” Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who heads a group that promotes civics education, declared “Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education.”

In many ways today’s crisis is of the government’s making, both on the national and state levels. It is also a crisis precipitated by the actions of both political parties, the Bush Republican “No Child Left Behind” and the Obama Democrat “Race to the Top.” Both mis-education strategies stress continuous testing in reading and math at the expense of all other subjects, including history, social studies, and civics. Students, teachers, and schools are all evaluated solely on these tests items. NO CHILD ON TOP / RACE TO THE BEHIND has transformed many of our schools, especially in inner-city communities, into cold, dry, boring test prep academies rather than places were children learn how to learn and prepare to become active citizens in a democratic society.
According to a report by my colleague Andrea Libresco, after five years of No Child Left Behind 36 percent of the nation’s school districts had cut class time for social studies to focus on math and reading test preparation.

In New York State, civics education has been undermined by the virtual abandonment of social studies below the high school level. Standardized state social studies and history assessments have already been canceled for the fifth and eighth grades and may become optional in high school. Unfortunately, as State Educational Commissioner David Steiner conceded at a conference at Hofstra University on April 15, “What is tested is taught.”

These “reforms” will make civics education, history and geography at best haphazard learning in our schools. According to Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, civic education is the most important subject talk in America schools and should have “moral primacy over other purposes of public education in a democratic society.” Brian Dowd, social studies K-12 coordinator in Massapequa, NY and co-chair of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies fears that “the Board of Regents,” by counting social studies again, “is about to put New York in ‘moral danger.'” The council is now conducting a letter writing and email campaign to press the state to keep current assessments and re-institute the ones that were suspended.

In the 1980s, Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces had a less-than-hit song called “Down in Mississippi.” It celebrated a state with some of the lowest economic and social indices in the country. My fear is that current national and state educational policies that stress reading and math test prep at the expense of everything else will not only undermine civic understanding, but leave us all “Down in Mississippi.”

Another disturbing thought is that people in power in this country may not want a truly educated population. When Osama Bin Laden was killed, both President Obama and former President Bush called it an act of “justice.” I asked an eleventh grade high school class in Uniondale, New York if they agreed and every student who spoke, and there were many, said “Yes.” I then asked how we define “justice” in the United States. There was general agreement that the key component is due process of law with the right to a trial. My final question was, whether you agreed with the killing of Bin Laden or not, do you think it can correctly be described as “justice”? Students were now not so sure. For me as a social studies teacher, the most important part of civics education is promoting this kind of uncertainty.

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies, Hofstra University

Can you teach creationism and still be “teaching to” the BC science learning outcomes?

Bill Ligertwood, director of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought, has filed a complaint with the British Columbia Ministry of Education over creationist lessons in science classes at Kamloops Christian School, which receives funding from the province.

Ligertwood is quoted in the Vancouver Sun saying, “there’s no way they should be teaching basically science fiction in science class. As far as we’re concerned, it’s no different than teaching the Easter Bunny is true in a science class.

“They can teach all the religion they want to teach, and that’s what they’ll do because it’s a Christian school, but it shouldn’t be in science class. It’s not science. This is an institution that is receiving public money and it’s teaching children lies.”

Section 76 of the School Act, make a distinction between public and independent schools in B.C.

A ministry spokesperson told Kamloops This Week, “Section 76 of the act requires all public schools to be conducted under strictly secular and non-sectarian principals and that no religious dogma or creed is taught.” However, “Parents who want their children to have a faith-based education program can go to an independent school, which is permitted to teach from the philosophical or religious perspective that the independent school authority deems appropriate.”

“What matters,” according to the ministry spokesperon, “is whether they’re teaching to the learning outcomes” as defined by the province.

Which really begs the question, are science teachers “teaching to” the learning outcomes when they teach religious beliefs as part of the science curriculum?

History, Texas-style and other recommended articles from Historians Against the War:

“Top Ten Reasons East Jerusalem Does Not Belong to Jewish-Israelis”
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted March 23
On the history of Jerusalem from ancient times; the author teaches Middle East history at the University of Michigan

“Texas School Board Whitewashes History”
By Daniel Czitrom, History News Network, posted March 22
The author teaches history at Mt. Holyoke College

“Counterfactual: A Curious History of the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation Program”
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, March 29 issue
Dismantles Marc Theissen’s best-selling book Courting Disaster

“From the Philippines Conquest to Afghanistan, the U.S. Trains Local Police in Brutality”
By Jeremy Kuzmarov, History News Network, posted March 22 (first published in Asia-Pacific Journal)

“Twisting History in Texas”
By Eric Foner, The Nation, April 5 issue, posted March 18
The author teaches history at Columbia University

“The Pentagon Church Militant: The Top Five Questions We Should Ask the Penatagon”
By William J. Astore, TomDispatch.Com, posted March 18
The author, a retired Air Force lieutenant Colonel, teaches history as the Pennsylvania College of Technology

“Justifying Torture: Yoo Besmirches the Legacy of Jefferson”
By Ray McGovern, CounterPunch.org, posted March 16

“Torture and the Imperial Presidency”
By Cary Fraser, Truthout.org, posted March 15
The author teaches history at Pennsylvania State University

“The Travails of a Client State: An Okinawan Angle on the 50th Anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty”
By Gavan McCormack, Foreign Policy in Focus, posted March 12

“An Open Letter to President Obama: U.S. Foreign Policy and Post-Election Iran”
By Cyrus Bina, Counterpunch.org, posted March 12
Traces the history of recent decades of US-Iran relations

Rouge Forum Update: Up the Rebels!

Remember Proposals are Due, April 15, for the Rouge Forum Conference

Send Your Articles, Photos, Cartoons, for the Rouge Forum News to Community Coordinator Adam Renner.

On the Little Rouge School Front:

CTA is the Biggest Campaign Spender in California: “ $211,849,298″

“Fire All the Teachers” Demagogue Becomes Good Cop on NCLB: “The new proposals would require states to use annual tests, along with other indicators, to divide the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools into three groups: some 10,000 to 15,000 high-performing schools that would receive rewards or recognition, some 5,000 chronically failing schools requiring vigorous state intervention, and 80,000 or so schools in the middle that would be encouraged to figure out on their own how to improve.”

AFT Welcomes Common National Standards (ya cannot make this stuff up): “The new standards released on March 10 by the Common Core State Standards Initiative represent the best effort so far to transform today’s patchwork quilt of 50 sets of state standards into one set of strong, consistent expectations for what all students should know and learn, AFT president Randi Weingarten says.”

WashPost: National Regimented Curricula Require Racist Tests: “We will need tests—they will likely evolve into national tests—that are aligned with the new standards. That means changing the annual tests already used in some states, and overcoming the still widespread view that national testing undercuts states rights.”

Emily Alpert on Apartheid U. That is, UCSD: Black students are a rarity at UCSD. Only 1.6 percent of its undergraduate students are black, a stat that has become a rallying cry after an escalating series of racially offensive events around the university…

Paul Moore: “Letter: I teach at the ‘Central Falls High School’ of Miami, Florida, and we won’t let you scapegoat us for your problems.”

Detroit Board Joins George Washington (yes) In Lawsuit Against Bobb: “The Detroit Public School Board unanimously voted Monday night to file a second lawsuit against Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, saying $145,000 in private foundation support he receives under his new contract is unlawful.”

On March 12th the Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership announced on their web site that they would join the lawsuit against Broad’s Bobb while the community began to respond to the Skillman plan to abolish the Detroit School Board. “Union and community activists at a school board meeting Thursday night said they were outraged by the plan to get rid of the board, while many parents were divided, and Mayor Dave Bing said he’d only take on the responsibility if voters agreed.”

Financial Manager Bobb Throws DPS into Deepest Debt Ever: “• Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30…(and proves concessions don’t save jobs)…The financial situation will be managed, Bobb said, if a number of measures take place for the fiscal year that begins this summer. Among them: eliminating 2,100 positions to save $128.8 million; reducing health care costs by $47 million; saving $8 million through outsourcing transportation; and closing an estimated 41 schools.”

Detroit News Editorial: Back the Tyrant; Fire the Teachers and Let the Union Help! “Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson says his leadership team will hold a review today to decide whether to eject Conn and other such teachers from the union for their actions. That seems appropriate. It’s not up to individual teachers to decide what policies they’ll abide by. The union has agreed to some of the changes the dissidents are trying to block. Bobb should fire educators who are actively working to undermine district policies during school hours.

Bobb, Skillman, Broad, et al, Plan to Seize Detroit Schools–Close 40: “A coalition of education leaders and foundations will unveil today a sweeping academic reform agenda that targets failing schools, calls for 70 new programs and launches a national effort to recruit principals. The $200 million plan also aims to build community support this year to eliminate the Detroit Board of Education and make the mayor accountable for Detroit Public Schools….Other initiatives include the effort from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which did not sign off on the plan but was engaged in the talks to develop it, to open its own school,”

Who is Michigan Future Inc?

Could it Be A Pattern? KC to Close Half of its Schools: “The Kansas City Board of Education voted Wednesday night to close almost half of the city’s public schools, accepting a sweeping and contentious plan to shrink the system in the face of dwindling enrollment, budget cuts and a $50 million deficit.In a 5-to-4 vote, the members endorsed the Right-Size plan, proposed by the schools superintendent, John Covington, to close 28 of the city’s 61 schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs, including those of 285 teachers.”

Texas Loves Them Textbooks: Tx, Fla, and California set the social studies standards in textbooks because they make huge, state-wide, purchases. ”In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’” ”Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among the conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”) “The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.”

Read the rest of the Rouge Forum Update here.

Texas state school board continues assualt on reason

The right-wing wing assault on reason in schools has intensified with the appointment Gail Lowe as the chair of the Texas State Board of Education. Lowe recently criticized the inclusion of US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez in the social studies curriculum because, according to Lowe, Marshall and Chavez are are “not particularly known for their citizenship.”

Governor Rick Perry appointed Lowe to the position after the Texas state senate rejected Perry’s attempt to have Don McLeroy appointed for a second term as board chairman. In his role as chair of the Texas State Board of Education, McLeroy championed creationism and lobbied to have Texas science curriculum focus on the “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. In a January 2009 editorial, The New York Times described the McLeroy’s board as “scientifically illiterate” for their efforts to create a science curriculum that reflects conservative Christian beliefs about creation, rather than  scientific evidence.

Under Lowe, the Texas Board is not likely change its tune. According to the Houston Chronicle, Lowe, a small town newspaper publisher,  is “unapologetic about her conservative Christian views.” In an interview with the Associated Press, Lowe said “This country was founded on Judeo Christian principles and to say otherwise is to deny what is very unique about our country,” and she believes that believes students should be taught “biblical motives of the country’s founding fathers.”

Lowe has been a member of the Texas board since 2002 and has consistently voted with the panel’s ultra conservative faction—opposing inclusion of contraception information in health textbooks, attacking evolutionary biology as part of the science curriculum, and rejecting the inclusion of two of the most towering civil rights figures of the 2oth century in the social studies curriculum,  Marshall and Chavez .

Lowe’s comments on Marshall and Chavez were in response to comments from members of  board appointed advisory-panel who have argued that Marshall—who argued the Brown v. Board racial desegregation case in the 1950s and who later became the first African American US Supreme Court Justice—and Chavez—the Mexican American farm worker, labor leader,  and civil rights activist—should be deemphasized in the social studies curriculum because they lack “the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.”

Marshall and Chavez are “not particularly known for their citizenship,” Lowe told the Houston Chronicle. “Figures we use to represent those character ideals (citizenship, patriotism and community involvement) and the type of persons we want your students to emulate should be politically neutral.”

Hmmm, what kind of logic is that? Well, it’s racist logic of course. Can you even find one figure in a US history textbook who is “politically neutral”? Even a white person?

Thanks to Tony’s Curricublog for the heads up on this (and many other stories).

Texas Education Board extremists target social studies

[Thanks to Tony Whitson for tipping WTBHNN on this development.]

“The Texas Freedom Network reports that fringe right-wingers on the Texas Board of Education have turned their attention from Christianizing the science curriculum in the state and are now focused on the social studies curriculum.

A TFN press release states that the Texas State Board of Education is set to appoint a social studies curriculum “expert” panel that includes absurdly unqualified ideologues who
are hostile to public education and argue that laws and public policies should be based on their narrow interpretations of the Bible.

TFN has obtained the names of “experts” appointed by far-right state board members. Those panelists will guide the revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. They include David Barton of the fundamentalist, Texas-based group WallBuilders, whose degree is in religious education, not the social sciences, and the Rev. Peter Marshall of Peter Marshall Ministries in Massachusetts, who suggests that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were divine punishments for tolerance of
homosexuality.

It gets worse.

Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is a self-styled “historian” without any formal training in the field. He argues that separation of church and state is a “myth” and that the nation’s laws should be based on Scripture. He says, for example, that the Bible forbids taxes on income and capital gains. Yet even such groups as Texas Baptists Committed and the Baptist Joint Committee have sharply criticized Barton’s interpretations of the Constitution and history.

Barton also acknowledges having used in his publications and speeches nearly a dozen quotes he has attributed to the nation’s Founders even though he can’t identify any primary sources showing that they really said them.

Some state board members have criticized what they believe are efforts to overemphasize the contributions of minorities in the nation’s history. It is alarming, then, that in 1991 Barton spoke at events hosted by groups tied to white supremacists. He later said he hadn’t known the groups were “part of a Nazi movement.”

In addition, Barton’s WallBuilders Web site suggests as a “helpful” resource the National Association of Christian Educators/Citizens for Excellence in Education, an organization that calls public schools places of “social depravity” and “spiritual slaughter.”

And what in the world is the point of putting a right-wing evangelical minister on a social studies panel?

The Peter Marshall Ministries Web site includes Marshall’s commentaries sharply attacking Muslims, characterizing the Obama administration as “wicked,” and calling on Christian parents to reject public education for their children.

Marshall has also attacked Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. In his call for a spiritual revival in America last year, he called traditional mainline Protestantism an “institutionally fossilized, Bible-rejecting shell of Christianity.”

Says TFN’s Kathy Miller:

‘It’s absurd to suggest that Texas universities don’t have accomplished scholars in the field who are more qualified than ideologues who share a narrow political agenda. What’s next? Rush Limbaugh on the ‘expert’ panel? It’s clear now that just appointing a new chairman won’t end this board’s outrageous efforts to politicize the education of our schoolchildren. It’s time for the Legislature to make sweeping changes to the board and its control over what our kids learn in public schools.”

With Don McLeroy’s confirmation hanging in the balance in the Senate and lawmakers considering 15 bills that would strip the state board of its authority, these board members continue trying to push extremist politics into Texas classrooms. It’s as if they’re daring the Legislature to call them on it.'”