If you’re a teacher in elementary, middle, high school, or college, you may notice that the importance of certain classes often evolves with time.
And while change is often important, we may not always be aware of the potentially negative consequences that follow.
A few years ago, one of the schools I worked at was going to do away with required public speaking courses. I honestly didn’t understand why.
I may be biased, but I believe public speaking is one of the absolute best courses you can take at any age; it’s a class where you learn by doing, growing, and facing a fear that will help you over and over again throughout your life as you take on challenges, prepare for job interviews, ask for promotions, and even give wedding toasts. I can’t think of another class that prepares you better for becoming a confident, well-spoken leader in life, business, or any other career field.
Having said that, I’d like to share a new perspective.
As someone who isn’t familiar with what goes on behind the scenes in classes like Western Civilization, World Mythology, and other humanities and history courses, I was able to adopt an interesting new point of view from professor and author, Chris Berg.
It may not be the usual Happy Professor piece, but I believe it’s incredibly enlightening, so I hope you enjoy the kickoff to our Historian’s Perspective series!
Happy reading, everyone.
In May 2012, an article appeared in the news magazine Perspectives in History, a publication of the American Historical Association, titled “The End of History Education in Elementary Schools?” where authors Bruce VanSledright, Kimberly Reddy, and Brie Walsh revealed that history, as a school subject, had nearly vanished from the curriculum.
The teaching of history had all but ended in most elementary schools across the country, according to survey research cited by VanSledright and colleagues.
Other school subjects are also slowly fading from the core curriculum and, in turn, the public eye, in spite of parents often vocalizing how important these subjects are to understanding the world around them and navigating the complexities of twenty-first-century life.
When did history and so many other important subjects become incompatible with this new vision of public education?
Why would a once formidable subject revered as the foundation of public school education in the United States since the late-nineteenth century be resigned to the fringes of the curriculum as an outcast, or worse, labeled irrelevant?
The fascination with STEM-related curricular objectives has come at a heavy cost—precipitous drops in student achievement and the marginalization of history and other school subjects. The reinfusion of history and of the humanities in general, one can argue, is a necessary first step to restore equilibrium to public education.
Christopher Berg is a professor of history specializing in pre-modern World history and a historian of education interested in the historical development and dialogue surrounding history and social studies education since the late-nineteenth century. The author of Small Island, Big History, a book examining British history through the lens of “empire” and “imperialism,” he is also a contributing author for Ancient History Encyclopedia, the global leader in ancient history content online and Historical Quest, a digital World history magazine based in Athens, Greece.
For more information on the piece and research above, see below:
For a deeper discussion of these events, see Hazel Hertzberg’s Social Studies Reform, 1890-1980, Ronald Evans’ The Social Studies Wars: What Should We Teach the Children? and David Warren Saxe’s Social Studies in Schools: A History of the Early Years. A book that offers a penetrating analysis of this debate within elementary schools is Anne-Lise Halvorsen’s A History of Elementary Social Studies: Romance and Reality.
The critics of progressive reform included several factions over and above the history academy and the best discussion on this is in Herbert Kliebard’s classic The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958.
Hertzberg, Social Studies Reform, 1890-1980, xi.
To read more about this debate and its effects on history education, see Christopher Berg and Theodore Christou’s article, “History and the Public Good: American Historical Association Presidential Addresses and Initiatives and the Evolving Understanding of History Education” in the journal Curriculum History (in press).