Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NYT: Cuts in Electives, More Reading and Math

From the New York Times:

"The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math."

Social studies courses are often uniquely situated to help student learn about critical interpretation, the bias of time and culture, and our place in the course of history. Electives provide opportunities for students to create, try new skills or subjects, explore other subjects in more depth and even find activities that they can enjoy without specific academic expectations. One wonders if public schools become more constricted if this will drive students into more out of school (e.g. distance learning, apprenticeship) opportunities.

Reading and conventional K-12 math courses also aren't going to cut it for 21st century spatial or design-minded thinkers.

NYT: Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math


  1. It is the myopic and fairly stubborn view of most reading teachers and administrators that 95 % reading instruction *must* be done *only* with fiction.

    As a matter of teaching practice there is no reason why reading *skills* cannot be mastered while using History or Science *content* - yet the resistance to doing this kind of win-win curriculum is exceptionally high.

  2. Isn't this maddening? But even when history is included in the accounts, it may be randomly inserted in the reading for the semester, and little time may be given for depth or quality of study.

    In regards to the fiction bias, some have suggested it is the female bias (more female teachers, more females prefer fiction) that assigns fiction. Also, there have been increasing pressures to "interest" students more in reading by providing contemporary selections, but some of these are far from being "great works".

    Some of the history dilemma is that the teaching history, like mathematics, has not been a particular strength (in general) here in the U.S. Many non-history teachers might have never had to take college history courses (for education degrees), and so recall or learned little of higher level historical analysis before heading to the classroom.

    There may be little hope, then for students to be instructed in looking for historical analogies, differences of historical interpretation, or true contextual understanding.

  3. It is very maddening. American Studies programs have been around for thirty years - we know that this method works better.

    There is a power element here as well. For an overall combined English-History curriculum to make sense to the students you have to let History be " the driver" in terms of deciding scope and sequence of the thematic units.

    That means giving up some freedom to, for example, do Romanticism in the Spring because that is when you have always done that unit. English teachers generally resent that loss of control over content as they are already being mercilessly driven on mastery of skills because of NCLB.

    The self-referential aspects you mentioned - heavily female-weighted cultural preferences, minimal exposure to upper (300-400) level history, science or mathematics courses - are also present and real.