Monthly Archives: July 2010

Jim Crow-ism at the Board of Regents: New York State votes to end Social Studies Tests in 5th and 8th Grade

The “No Child Left Behind” world has made it very clear that social studies is a second-class citizen in the world of education.

Like the Jim Crow South, NCLB has relegated social studies to non-important assessments in odd times of the year—assessments that have no bearing at all on promotion, at least below high school.  It is given the least amount of time in the day, and the worst of materials compared to reading, mathematics and science.  When the crunch to comply with NCLB standards begins in the spring, social studies is the first block of time sacrificed to the gods of standardized assessment.

Most horrific of all, when the other subjects feel the crunch of financial pressure, it is social studies that gets lynched.

A lynching is what it got on June 22, when the New York State Board of Regents, an UN-ELECTED, appointed body that oversees education in New York State, approved a cost-saving measure to cut testing in social studies for grades 5 and 8.   Social studies testing was eating up assessment dollars that the “more important” subjects need.  According to the Regents, this is a crime tantamount to touching a white woman in Mississippi in the 1950s.

In justifying their position, Education Commissioner David Steiner stated that “the Regents today approved responsible and appropriate measures – measures that will permit the core of elements of our testing program to continue, while we increase the rigor of those remaining exams.”

Let’s examine the effects of these “responsible and appropriate” measures.

High school students are not off the hook when it comes to social studies.  Global Studies and US History & Government are no cakewalk exams: they involve a massive basket of content knowledge coupled with complex thinking and analysis skills.  How are students in 10th and 11th grade to be anywhere near prepared if there is no assessments in lower grades to enforce basic content and concepts?

Furthermore, Steiner claims that the Regents are committed to “giving tests that…measure the skills and knowledge necessary for success in school, college and the workplace.”  So we can survive in everyday lives with no knowledge of our own government, our own economy, our own geography or our history?

Let’s be frank.  In the NCLB world, if it isn’t tested, it isn’t important.  Cancelling exams in 5th and 8th grade just sent a signal to elementary and middle school teachers across the state that social studies is expendable.  Social studies teachers will have to shift resources and emphasis, all without the impetus of standardized testing to motivate faculty and administration.  Even worse, social studies as a subject could be wiped out altogether in many schools in New York.

Steiner and his gang did not adopt “responsible” nor “appropriate” measures.  They sent a clear signal to this state—social studies is worthless.  To paraphrase that odious Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney: social studies, according to the Board of Regents, has no rights any teacher, administrator or superintendent are bound to respect.

It’s sicking, and I’ve just about had it.

I’m sick and tired of crying out in the wilderness, screaming at the top of my lungs the importance of knowing our past in helping to determine our future.

I’m sick and tired of stressing the interdisciplinary nature of social studies, a subject that permeates every discipline in our educational core, from reading to science to mathematics and beyond.

I’m sick and tired of creating, writing, searching, sharing, delivering, and showing resources, assessments, books, printouts, and lessons that help teacher enhance a subject that matters little to student promotion.

I’m sick and tired of going to conferences, lectures, workshops, seminars and book signings with my fellow social studies teachers and experts who are as frustrated as I am at our sorry predicament.

In fact, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It is time that we as the guardians of this great subject stand up and tell the Albany Regency that they are shortchanging our children and our democracy.

I’m calling on all of my fellow teachers, of all disciplines, of all states.  If this can happen here, it can happen, and probably has happened, in any other state in the Union.  Below is the contact information for the New York State Board of Regents, as well as those of the Education Committees in the New York State Legislature.

Let them know that the Jim Crow-attitude towards social studies must end if we are to produce well-educated, productive students that can make those great contributions to our country.  We’re always saying how our kids can change the world: it’s damn near impossible to do if they don’t know anything about it.

Let’s make sure social studies gets the respect it deserves…by any means necessary!

NYS BOARD OF REGENTS MEMBERS:

To contact the Regents as a whole, use the following:

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234
E-mail: RegentsOffice@mail.nysed.gov

The following are the individual Regents and the areas they represent:

2011* Tisch, Merryl H.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Chancellor; At Large
9 East 79th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10075
Phone: (212) 879-9414    Email: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Cofield, Milton L.; B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor; Judicial District VII – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates
98 Hickory Ridge Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14625
Phone (585) 200-6284    Email: RegentCofield@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Bennett, Robert M.; B.A., M.S.
Chancellor Emeritus; Judicial District VIII — Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming
201 Millwood Lane, Tonawanda, NY 14150
Phone: (716) 645-1344    Email: RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cohen, Saul B.; B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
At Large
14 North Chatsworth Avenue, Apt. 3E, Larchmont, NY 10538
Phone: (914) 834-0615     Email: RegentCohen@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Dawson, James C.; A.A, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
Judicial District IV — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington
166 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh, NY 12903
Phone: (518) 324-2401    Email: RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov

2011* Bottar, Anthony S.; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District V — Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600, AXA Tower II, Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: (315) 422-3466    Email: RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Chapey, Geraldine, D.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Judicial District XI — Queens
107-10 Shore Front Parkway, Apt. 9C, Belle Harbor, NY 11694
Phone: (718) 634-8471    Email: RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Phillips 3rd, Harry; B.A., M.S.F.S.
Judicial District IX — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester
71 Hawthorne Way, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 948-2228   Email: RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Tallon, Jr., James R. ; B.A., M.A.
Judicial District VI – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins
United Hospital Fund, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10118-0110
Phone (212) 494-0777    Email: RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Tilles, Roger; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District X – Nassau, Suffolk
100 Crossways Park West, Suite 107, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797
Phone (516) 364-2533    Email: RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Brooks Hopkins, Karen; B.A., M.F.A.
Judicial District II – Kings
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 636-4135    Email: RegentHopkins@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Bendit, Charles R.; B.A.
Judicial District I – New York
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10011
Phone (212) 220-9945   Email: RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Rosa, Betty A., B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D.
Judicial District XII – Bronx
Chambreleng Hall, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10458
Phone (718) 817-5053  Email: RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Young, Jr., Lester W., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
At Large
55 Hanson Place, Suite 400, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 722-2796  Email: RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cea, Christine D., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District XIII – Richmond
NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities
1050 Forest Hill Road, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone (718) 494-5306  Email: RegentCea@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Norwood, Wade S., B.A.
At Large
74 Appleton Street, Rochester, NY 14611
Phone (585) 461-3520  Email: RegentNorwood@mail.nysed.gov

LINK TO EDUCATION COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY:

http://assembly.state.ny.us/comm/?sec=mem&id=12

LINK TO EDUCATION COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE:

http://www.nysenate.gov/committee/education

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Summer Reading for Teachers: The Unknown American Revolution

The last thing teachers want to do during the summer is plan for next year. 

Yet if you’re like me, stuck in a massive heat wave with no motivation to brave the rain forest-like conditions, then maybe some planning in the AC could help—especially when you have a resource like today’s selection.

I just got back from a conference at UCLA on the American Revolution.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories: what does California have to do with the American Revolution?  Well, between UCLA and the Huntington Library, there is a massive concentration of primary source material on the subject. 

Secondly, the main lecturer of the conference helped tie all that material together.  UCLA’s Gary Nash is a true master of the subject, particularly in areas that get little attention.  Professor Nash teaches history at UCLA and is the director of the National Center for History in the Schools, an organization devoted to making meaningful connections between classroom teachers and university academics.  Witty, soft-spoken, and incredibly approachable, Nash makes a wonderful guide through an increasing thorny subject—the “other” stories of the American Revolution that often get buried in textbooks.

Nash’s 2005 work The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America serves as a worthy guidebook through this material.  In it, he details many of the conflicts, struggles, debates and battles that have received little attention, making the Revolution a far more complex subject—and far more real experience—than is often depicted.

According to Professor Nash, the American Revolution is not simply a war of independence between the colonies and Great Britain, but a large, unwieldy, often conflicting web of movements and struggles that affect our national character even today. 

As the battles raged, radicals, conservatives and moderates were jostling to create a new nation and offer voices to new groups of people: immigrants, women, blacks, poor whites, etc.  State constitutions were the first real experiments in representative democracy, scoring victories and defeats in the advancement of freedom and suffrage.  Shortages would see a struggle for economic power as bread riots would rage in northern cities.

The Revolution also set the stage for what Nash argues is the largest black rebellion in American history, as thousands of enslaved Africans made a flight for freedom—mostly heading for the British lines.  The need to control the black population also caused a drain on recruitment in the south, as white landowners worked to keep control of their property.

It would also be a turning point in the Native American struggle to maintain independence and sovereignty in the face of encroaching white development, creating unforeseen tensions, alliances and rivalries.  The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, would split up forever over the Revolution, and tribes in the Ohio valley and the southeast would fight as independent actors in a stage largely seen as two-sided.

Finally, the Revolution really began the era of westward expansion, as the population explosion of the 18th century would force settlers farther into the American hinterland.  Conflicts arise, with native populations, eastern colonial elites, and the British military. 

The need for a “popular history” of the American Revolution is expressed by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park and quoted by Nash in his introduction:

“Men of literary taste…are always apt to overlook the working classes, and to confine the records they make of their own times, in a great degree to the habits and fortunes of their own associates or to those people of superior rank to themselves. The dumb masses have often been so lost in this shadow of egotism, that, in later days, it has been impossible to discern the very real influence their character and condition has had on the fortune and fate of nations.”

History is about telling the whole story, and according to Olmstead, half the story is usually hidden by those at the top of society.  Their narrative, the one that has prevailed so many centuries, has filled our textbooks and the addled minds of so many schoolchildren—children like mine, who look nothing like the Founding Fathers.

So how can The Unknown American Revolution be used in the classroom?

Obviously, this work is much too complicated for most students, even high schoolers.  We’ve covered popular histories of the Revolution before here in the Neighborhood, and Thomas Fleming’s work Everybody’s Revolution is still a great book for elementary and middle-school children in covering much of Nash’s premise.  Fleming’s book is best for any classroom assignments.

Where Nash’s book really excels is both as a resource for high school students in research and as a reference for student questions.  High schoolers, who so often cut corners in research papers, can use Nash’s book as a valuable tool in rounding out any topic about the Revolution, giving a nuance scarcely found in the shelves of typical high school libraries.

For younger students, The Unknown American Revolution provides some explanation to questions many children have about the time period.  In the South Bronx, few children can feel a tangible connection to the Revolution.  In looking at women, the poor, Africans—people that they can relate to—my students can see the Revolution as an event that affected everyone, and that mattered to everyone.   

Finally, I’ll end with a warning Professor Nash gave all of us at the beginning of our week together.  He told us that the most dangerous word in history is “inevitable.”  In our textbooks, we often think that the events that happen were inevitable and could not be stopped.  In doing so, the actions of human beings are conveniently marginalized. 

I always tell my students that history is the story of how humans solve problems, and the consequences of these solutions.  People, all sorts of people, have an active role in not only creating problems, but also in finding meaningful solutions.  The guys on the money were not perfect; and it’s important that kids understand that sooner rather than later. 

It is up to us as teachers to take the premises presented by professors like Gary Nash and make them real and meaningful to our children.

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The Neighborhood goes West: Mr. D at UCLA this week

In all the World Cup business, I had almost forgot I had a trip coming up.

The Neighborhood will be taking a weeklong break as Mr. D attends a Summer Seminar at UCLA, courtesy of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.  As exciting as that sounds, chances are that I’ll be locked in the Westwood campus for the whole week for workshops, lectures, research etc.

As such, I may not be finding time to even enjoy California, let alone post to the Neighborhood.  So forgive your host if there’s no activity on here until next week.

Also, if anyone in the Neighborhood is in the Los Angeles area, please let me know.

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