History is a mystery

Fourth-graders at the New Hampshire Historical Society Photo: Jason Moon/NHPR

Each year, fourth graders visit the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord as part of their study of state history. It used to be a “capstone” field trip, said Elizabeth Dubrulle, the society’s director of education. Now it’s a substitute for the history education most no longer receive in the classroom.

“We used to employ a very Socratic method with the kids,” she told NHPR reporter Jason Moon. “We would try keeping them engaged by asking a lot of questions, drawing on what they knew. We had to change that because we would ask questions and it would be crickets. They didn’t know. They weren’t getting the background.”

Dubrulle and the museum teachers give examples of the “history deficit.”

. . . students who named ISIS as America’s enemy in the Revolutionary War or who were unable to name the president during the Civil War.“

. . . “We’ve had kids from Manchester schools, who when they came through our field have trip said they had no idea there were mills in Manchester. They had no idea what those brick buildings were that they saw everywhere.”

The society is creating a free, online curriculum on New Hampshire history for fourth graders.

It’s not just a New Hampshire problem, according to Knowledge Matters. Elementary students devote 85 minutes a day to language arts, but just 18 minutes a day to social studies. (And social studies may not mean history or civics.)

Most elite universities don’t require history majors to study U.S. history or government, complains George Will, citing an American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) study.

Who he?

Who he?

Others let students satisfy the requirement with “micro-history” courses such as “Hip-Hop, Politics and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut), and “Jews in American Entertainment” (University of Texas).

More than a third of college graduates couldn’t identify Franklin Roosevelt as the architect of the New Deal in a recent ACTA survey. Nearly half did not know the lengths of the terms of U.S. senators and representatives.

Teaching Trump

A history teacher in Silicon Valley was placed on paid leave Thursday after comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

A parent complained about remarks by Frank Navarro, who’s taught at Mountain View High for 40 years.

Frank Navarro, a history and special education teacher, in his Mountain View High classroom.

Frank Navarro, a history and special education teacher, in his Mountain View High classroom.

The Oracle, Mountain View High’s independent student newspaper, said some of Navarro’s students alleged his lessons were one-sided,” reports Sharon Noguchi.

“Everything I talk about is factually based,” said the teacher. “It’s not propaganda or bias if it’s based on hard facts.”

Like Hitler, Trump was elected. I wonder what the other “hard facts” are.

In a letter to parents, Principal Dave Grissom said he is obliged to maintain an “emotionally safe environment” for students, reports SFGate.

Also on Thursday, Milpitas High School Principal Phil Morales was placed on administrative leave for using a profanity about Trump during a student walkout.

Greg, a social studies teacher in Texas, is encouraged by his students. “An impromptu discussion of the election — and why Trump may not be able to accomplish many of his goals — made me realize that my students actually get what I have been teaching about the Constitution, the limits of government power, and the ability of the people to bring change through their involvement.”

In Los Angeles, a substitute PE teacher was fired for telling students their undocumented parents would be deported and they’d be placed in foster care.

The DREAM Act, which would have legalized immigrants who came as children, failed in the Senate in 2010. Photo: Bill Clark/Roll Call

The DREAM Act, which would have legalized immigrants who came as children, failed in the Senate in 2010. Photo: Bill Clark/Roll Call

I thought at first he was teaching that Trump is evil, but later stories say he was taunting inattentive students. On an audio tape, he tells a sixth grader that “the system” knows where to find them. “I have your phone numbers, your address, your mama’s address, your daddy’s address. It’s all in the system, sweetie.”

By executive order, President Obama deferred deportation for young people brought here illegally as children and offered work permits. That’s an enormous boon to “Dreamers” trying to build their future. President Trump could end deferred deportation and work permits for non-legal residents with a stroke of the pen. Surely, he will.

Undocumented students have reason to fear the future. I’m not sure what their teachers should be telling them.

Why I teach kids about the Civil War

For 34 years, history “re-enactor” Jeff Sanders has visited classrooms to teach kids about the life of a Civil War soldier, he writes on PJ Media. From public and private schools to homeschool co-ops and juvenile detention centers, students are eager to learn.

“They learn what a ‘housewife’ is (it’s a sewing kit), how my toothbrush is made from animal bone and hog’s hair bristles (‘oooooh! gross!!), and how they made hardtack (a big flat cracker) and ate salt pork fried down to mush and mixed with bug-infested flour (yuck!),” writes Sanders.

He shows them his rifled musket and bayonet.

He finishes with a Northern song  (“Battle Cry of Freedom”), a Southern song (“Goober Peas”) and the favorite hymn of  both sides (“There Is A Fountain”).

Students love stories, says Sanders.

He always talks about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. A Bowdoin professor and minister, he left his wife and children to command the 20th Maine. His defense of Little Round Top prevented a Confederate victory at Gettysburg.

I talk about how hot it was that day. . . . How Chamberlain was given orders to fight to the death.

. . . The kids hear about the ferocious gunfire and hand to hand fighting. And how tired both sides were: the men of the 15th Alabama were dying of thirst because their guys with all their canteens had been captured! And now, as the Confederates were coming up the hill for one last charge, Colonel Chamberlain received the worst news: “Colonel, sir, we are out of ammunition.”

That’s when I turn to the kids and ask them, “What should he do? What would YOU do? Go home? Run and hide? Start crying and telling everyone that you’re too tired?

Some day it may all come down to just YOU and what YOU will do. What are you going to do?”

Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge.

You can hear a pin drop as I draw my bayonet and fit it to my rifle. Then, I reach for my sword, and scare the kids half to death by yelling “CHARGE!!!!!”

The 20th Maine drove the Confederates off the hill and saved the Union army, Sanders tells students. They love it. “Give your kids real flesh-and-blood heroes,” he says. Batman isn’t enough.

Know to learn

Via Knowledge Matters’ Seize the Day page.

‘Ignorant armies clash’

Image result for republic if you can keep it
Progressive education bears some of the blame for the rise of Donald Trump, argues Sol Stern in the Daily Beast.

He starts by quoting the conclusion of Dover Beach, an 1861 poem by Matthew Arnold, who was Britain’s chief school inspector, as well as a poet and cultural critic.

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Arnold “scorned the individualistic, child centered, and haphazard pedagogy prevalent in British schools at the time,” writes Stern.  He “proposed that government schools be required to teach a core curriculum of liberal, humanistic studies similar to the French schools he had come to admire.”

The primary aim of education in an industrial democracy, Arnold believed, was to introduce all children—rich and poor alike —to the achievements of western civilization and culture, which he famously defined as “the best which has been said and thought.”

A half century ago, U.S. “progressives” began “stripping away any semblance of a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum,” writes Stern. That has disrupted “the transmission of civic values and traditions from one generation to the next.”

“History” classes focus on “hot-topic social issues” rather than reading historical texts or remembering historical dates, figures or events, writes Esther Cepeda, a teacher and parent.

. . . most students on the last NAEP civics test could not correctly answer questions about checks and balances or understand the policy implications of a trend using a graph. And they’re supposed to someday understand the implications of our current reality-TV presidential election?

“There’s a lot of overtly anti-American ‘American History’ instruction going on in public schools,” she concludes.

Let my people know

Nine out of 10 college students think “slavery is a uniquely American invention,” according to Duke Pesta, a professor at University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh who says he quizzes his students every year. “Moses, Pharaoh, they know none of it.”

Is this possible?

Via David Thompson.

Do-it-yourself history: Hindus vs. Muslims

California’s Board of Education has adopted new social studies guidelines that “stress teaching critical thinking and objective inquiry so that students can determine historical truths for themselves,” writes John Fensterwald on EdSource.

Oh, yeah. That’ll work.

“We are not the arbiter of historical debate,” said State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Adams.

Hindus and Muslims don't agree on how California schools should teach about India's history.

California’s social studies guidelines will retain a reference to India’s caste system, despite protests by Hindus, but the reference to forced conversion to Islam has been softened.

The board has been under heavy pressure from immigrants from India, most of whom don’t want any mention of the caste system, and Muslims, who “criticized a reference to forced conversion by Islamic rulers on the Indian subcontinent centuries ago,” writes Fensterwald.

Mentioning the Japanese abuse of Korean “comfort women” during World War II also was controversial.

The Legislature has mandated teaching “financial literacy, Filipino-American contributions to the labor movement and World War II, the Armenian Genocide, President Barack Obama, and voter education,” he reports. “The FAIR Education Act requires the inclusion of lesbian, gay and transgender history and key figures.”

And, of course, “the framework stresses the importance of incorporating diverse historical perspectives of Hispanics, Native Americans and other ethnic groups.”

Napoleon (and social studies) on trial

At a well-regarded high school in southern California, Lisa VanDamme’s daughter is learning . . . Well, last year Lana took a “world history” course that tried to cover everything that has ever happened everywhere, writes the mother on Pygmalion for the Soul. It was chock full of the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. And the fifth C, which ends with “rap.” But there wasn’t much history.

Students would read “vastly overgeneralized” information in the textbook, then fill out worksheets.

One asked Lana to define historic terms and draw a picture of each one. One of the terms was “the Truman Doctrine.”

Another required a definition and an antonym. For example, “Creole” is  “a person of mixed European and black descent, especially in the Caribbean.” What’s the antonym? asks VanDamme.

It all led up to the project: “A trial of Napoleon, in which it was to be decided whether he was, A) a Bloodthirsty Tyrant, or B) A Great General. (Yes, those were the only two possibilities.)”

Each student was assigned the role of a historic person or a “type” (Lana was “a French officer”) and told to write a fictional account of their character’s interaction with Napoleon.

At the trial, “each student told his or her story of the [made-up] character’s direct encounter with Napoleon, including [made-up] evidence of his fundamentally ‘great’ or ‘tyrannical’ nature, while the rest of the class took notes,” she writes. Finally, each student used the “evidence” to write an essay on whether Napoleon was a tyrant or great general.

Now, by the standards of the 4 C’s, this project surely rates an A. Did it involve Communication? Yes, all of the students had to assume the stage and share their stories. Collaboration? After all, this was a group effort of experiences consolidated to yield a fair judgment. Creativity? (Can’t quite discuss this one with a straight face.) Well, yes, since their stories were works of fiction. And Critical Thinking? If the synthesis of pseudo-facts generated by your historically-ignorant peers with the goal of coming to an overly simplistic conclusion can be called “critical thinking,” then, certainly, it involved that too.

But what did students learn about Napoleon? Not much, concludes VanDamme.

She runs a private K-8 school that teaches history as “a captivating story of epic figures, engaged in world-changing events, with monumental consequences, that imply profound lessons about life.”

‘Hamilton’ speaks (and sings) to schoolkids

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, with a hip-hop and rap score and a cast of mostly black and Latino actors, is a smash hit on Broadway. Tickets cost hundreds of dollars. Twenty thousand New York City public school students will see the show about the founding fathers for $10 each, thanks to the show’s producers and the Rockefeller Foundation, reports PBS NewsHour.

Teachers use an interactive study curriculum to prepare 11th graders to understand Hamilton.

Greece, Rome, Mali?

Hans Bader’s daughter is learning world history — the politically correct version — in third grade, he writes on Liberty Unyielding.  Our World Far and Wide, by Five Ponds Press, lists three great civilizations: Greece, Rome and Mali.

Timbuktu was the capital of the Empire of Mali.

Timbuktu was the capital of the Empire of Mali.

In black Africa, “Mali was far less significant than ancient Ethiopia (sometimes called the ‘cradle of mankind‘),” writes Bader.

Ancient Egypt was one of the world’s great civilizations — and some pharoahs were black, Bader writes. So why feature the short-lived empire of Mali?

The book also profiles seven great Americans: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.