Hey Ho! Hey Ho! Western Civ. has to go! In Massachusetts, too

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/09/hey-ho-hey-ho-western-civ-has-to-go-in-massachusetts-too/

It seems that the Massachusetts Secretary and Commissioner of Education do not think Bay State students should learn about their civic or literary heritage any more. The Secretary once did as chair of the state board of education in 2001 when he voted for the 2001 Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework and in 2003 when he (and Governor Charlie Baker, then on the state board of education) voted for the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework. But in 2016, they seem to have decided that the “roots of Western Civilization” have to go.

Not in so many words, of course.

All the secretary of education and commissioner of education are announcing is a plan by the state board to “update” the 2003 History and Social Science Framework, at the recommendation of an unknown Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement. The updating is to take place before the state gives a long-delayed test of the Constitutional period in grade 10 — delayed, the commissioner of education explained in 2009, because the state didn’t have enough money to help those who flunked it the first time.

The secretary and commissioner do not tell us why a history document approved in 2003 needs to be updated at all. Do we need to “update” the Constitution? Do we no longer need to teach students about the roots of the American Revolution?

Does the state need “civic learning” inserted into the history and social science curriculum? A supplementary document containing suggested skills and practices for Civic Learning and Engagement is all that is necessary (if needed at all) since the 2003 History and Social Science Framework already contains the concepts needed for informed civic engagement, as well as the standards for a senior-year course on American government indicating the knowledge base one would expect of a high school graduate in this country.

The Working Group that recommended “updating” the history standards did not contain one high school history or government teacher. Nor any college history or political science professors (its members are listed at the end of its June 2015 report to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). Yet, the Board and the secretary of education accepted the Group’s recommendations without a question about its legitimacy, according to minutes of the meeting.

In 2002, anti-liberal forces in the state sought to eliminate the “Eurocentric” orientation of the proposed history and social studies standards and replace it with an “Islamocentric” orientation. These anti-liberal groups delayed by one year the Board’s approval of a document designed chiefly by the state’s history and government teachers — and approved by them.

The current effort (in 2016) by anti-liberal forces in the state seems to be to reduce if not eliminate study of U.S. history in the name of Civic Learning and Engagement, again without the participation of the state’s high school history and government teachers and college professors. In place of the current coursework in grades 11 and 12 on U.S. history and American government, the Department is recommending “model curriculum units” on the Civil War. Apparently, the Department does not think graduating students should be prepared for the 21st century.

The report contains surprisingly specific suggestions for the kind of curriculum the Department thinks should be “integrated” into the existing history and social science curriculum (i.e., to replace existing teacher-made curriculum units) in order to encourage student participation in a civic process that they do not understand at any level of government. See p. 8 for its list of proposed “model curriculum units,” grade by grade. One particular telling example is in grade 7.

In place of the study of ancient and classical civilizations in grade 7, the Department is recommending a “model curriculum unit” titled Model UN — Access to Clean Water. If the governor, secretary of education, and Board, Commissioner, and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have their way, Bay State students may learn little to nothing about the “origins and meaning of monotheism, democracy, the rule of law, individual worth, personal responsibility, the alphabetic principle for a writing system, and scientific reasoning,” all taught by the end of grade 7. Apparently, the Department didn’t think any of these concepts were worthy of “model curriculum units” for civic learning, but that study of an organization controlled by countries with long histories of abusing human rights was.

Readers of this blog should ask the Governor and Secretary of Education to exercise their authority to cancel an “update” of the 2003 history and social science standards. Readers should also ask the Commissioner of Education to send out for public comment the set of “model curriculum units” that he and the Department recommend for implementing civic learning and engagement in the 21st century.

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read more by Sandra Stotsky here.

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