Education Week reports on social scientists who complain that the new Common Core curriculum standards replicate the problems of No Child Left Behind, by shunting civics and history in favor of English and math.
I share the concern about the sorry state of civics and history education in American schools, but this is actually one reason why I'm cautiously optimistic about the Common Core. The Common Core English standards call for 50 percent of all reading assignments to be non-fiction and "informational;" currently, according to David Coleman, the lead architect of the new standards, about 80 percent of all reading assignments are fiction or memoir. So if schools and teachers take the Common Core suggested reading lists seriously, students will gain a lot more exposure to great thinkers and ideas in civics, history, and the social sciences. Here's a sampling of what the Core suggests they read:
K-1: How People Learned to Fly
2-3: Martin Luther King and the March on Washington; A Medieval Feast
4-5: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball; Let’s Investigate Marvelously Meaningful Maps; The Kid’s Guide to Money
6-8: Preamble and First Amendment to the United States Constitution; Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott; A Short Walk through the Pyramids and through the World of Art
9-10: "Gettysburg Address;" "Letter from Birmingham Jail;" Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West; Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491
11-12: Common Sense; "Politics and the English Language;" Democracy in America; "Delcaration of Sentiments" by the Seneca Falls Conference
English class reading lists aren't a substitute for high-quality history and civics courses, but they do foster seriousness toward these subjects across the curriculm. And remember: There are pragmatic political reasons why the Common Core isn't explicitly crafting history standards. Every time the country or even an individual state tries to come to any sort of agreement about how to teach history, we become embroiled in culture war nonsense. It happened in the 1990s with the National History Standards, which were written by a staggeringly broad array of scholars and teachers, yet attacked by Lynne Cheney et al as a font of identity politics liberlism. In Texas last year, the state Board of Education approved what can only be called a jingoistic, Christian conservative history and economics curriculum.
The United States remains an outlier among developed world nations in not articulating national standards for history. But with our politics as polarized as they are, and with the Republican Party particularly skeptical right now toward any federal attempt to regulate or even influence local schools, I just don't see the next few years as the time when we'll break through this barrier.
drawing depicts Elizabeth Cady Stanton speaking at the Seneca Falls Conference for women's rights, July 19, 1848