Curriculum History Uncovering History

Minnesota History Standards and Constructivism

History StandardsIn preparation for some district curriculum writing I have been examining the new Minnesota State social studies standards. They still need to be formally adopted into law by Governor Dayton.  A couple of state legislators have made some noise that they oppose the new standards, but there is no indication that Dayton will block them.  I gave them a quick look in February while working on developing history labs to uncover US History.  I remain cheered by the inclusion of historical reasoning in the history standards:

Substrand  1:  Historical  Thinking    Skills  Standard 1  Historians generally  construct chronological narratives  to  characterize eras and explain past events and change over time.

Standard  2  Historical inquiry is a process in which multiple sources and different kinds of historical evidence are analyzed  to draw conclusions about how and why things happened in the past.   (p 14)

Standard 2 is given two high school benchmarks, thus officially encouraging history teachers to guide students in uncovering history.   Without a state assessment of the standards, they will not force any changes in instruction.  They do, however, provide leverage for people, such as myself, looking to incorporate more constructivist approaches in their classrooms and in local curriculum writing.  Substrand 2 includes three standards that are part of the K-8 benchmarks (pp 14-15).  These standards demonstrate the role of agency in the events of the past, and although they conflate history and events of the past, they do so in a manner which suggests that the outcomes of events of the past were determined by the actions of individuals.  I hope that pre-service elementary and middle school teachers are at least exposed to this more sophisticated understanding of history.  The MN Historical Society also has primary source based lessons available for these grade levels.

The downside to the new standards from a constructivist point of  view is that there are still too many benchmarks.  Covering all 41 content-based World History benchmarks would leave little or no time for students to uncover history.  The standards committee has substantially cut down the number of benchmarks from the ’04 standards, but going from far, far too many benchmarks to simply too many does not change much for curriculum writers.  There is still something in the standards for everyone and more than any one teacher could conceivably explore in any depth.  My current Global Studies class is already more coverage focused than I would like, and my students are probably in a positions to hit 17 of the 41 benchmarks.  Additionally the 41 content benchmarks are almost all shallow, frequently calling on students to “describe”, “explain,” and “trace.”  Creating more complex, meaningful tasks is left to curriculum writers who will need to choose which content bench marks on which to focus, and then will need to apply the inquiry approach demanded by standard 2.  Curriculum writers and teachers should engage in this work to make history education more rigorous and more relevant.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

Let me know what you think!

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