Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back Then

(or perhaps this post should be titled, Lies my Teacher Taught Me, with apologies to James Loewen)

For a project, we surveyed elementary teachers who bring their students to a museum to find out about what they thought was important, what the students were learning, and how the visit tied to their curriculum. Although this museum's curriculum-based materials aren't the best, the website, collections and other materials clearly state that the site focuses on the 19th century. However, time and time again in the surveys, teachers said they visited because it connects with their study of Colonial history. Astounding. Can it really be that so many teachers--people with advanced degrees, and responsible for teaching children--really don't know the difference between the Colonial period and the 19th century? Should we be surprised that our general visitors can't make the distinction?

I'm not the kind of history person who thinks knowing every single date is important, but it seems to me that knowing a basic chronological progression might be a requirement for anyone teaching social studies. It presents a huge barrier for history museums and historic sites--if teachers can't even grasp the basics of what you're teaching, why would they come and how can they make sense of what happens at your site and connect it to their other classroom work?

What's the answer? Teacher workshops done by history museums? a revised system of training teachers?

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