*Reprinted below from college assignment for EDI 468 – Teaching High School Social Studies Inclusively, Fall 2012
Enacting a systematic framework that genuinely strives to educate students is essential to the future of democracy. By failing to construct educational institutions that efficiently and adequately prepare students for public life in the twenty-first century we are not only failing those specific students at an individual level, but we are also systematically limiting critical reasoning skills, relevant background knowledge, and student engagement, and are thereby threatening the long-term security of our nation. If our purpose for educating students is to prepare them for life in society – to provide them with the necessary skills and strategies to successfully function as a member of our democratic culture – we must recognize the constraints our system is under as well as the consequences of our potential failure.
In working to enrich the future of our democracy, we must strive for honesty on several levels. It is critical that we recognize the impossibilities of “covering” all of the “material” within the constraints of our current institutions. While we cannot hope to adequately encounter “all” of history, neither shall we selectively eliminate topics or time periods based on controversial interpretations nor shall we shy away from topics that may shed a dim light on some of our not-so-proud moments in history. We must tell the whole truth of each story yet we need not aspire to tell the entire five-billion year story. Instead it is necessary to select topics that are most relevant to the creation of the world we live in today, and work with students to build understandings.
Importantly, we must examine the relevance of specific individuals. Notably this should not be misread as the typical rich white Anglo-Saxon Protestant history of yesterday, but indeed must include the underrepresented characters of our past as well. This approach not only embodies an authentic method of studying history, but perhaps more importantly provides students with a meaningful and personal narrative of the American story. Instead of memorizing facts and details, students will comparatively examine how their own life fits into the American idea.
Developing background knowledge of history not only affords students a sense of analytical and critical thinking skills to contemplate issues in contemporary society, but it also enables them to act on their beliefs with some understanding of how dissent, protest, and civic engagement have succeeded (and failed) in the past. In fact, against the backdrop of historical ideals and unrealized ambitions, insights into history play a significant role in motivating action. Such actions are perhaps even more common when students develop some gauging of chronology against themes such as racism, class conflict, and democracy. By understanding the accomplishments of the past, students are simply more prepared to interact with present and future ideas.
It is evident that student are fulfilling neither common state expectations nor their own potentials within the societal mindset of standardized high-stakes tests. By limiting the curriculum to what will be asked on the test, educational institutions are systematically eliminating creative inquiry opportunities to students who may seek further comprehension of abstract topics in history. Instead of working with students to develop interests and build learning skills, educators ask students to memorize answers to questions that a professionally specialized intellectual environment continually debates what the answers to those hundreds-of-years-old questions actually are! This method is neither genuine nor effective.
To be sure, as numerous educational commentators have recognized, educating democratic citizens is a highly complex duty. Nonetheless, it is essential to the prosperous survival of our society and therefore must be carefully examined, critiqued, and adapted to fit the needs of a quickly-developing interconnected globe. In the future as we collectively rethink our education system, these are considerations we must value highly.