Many historians, upset with what they expected Saturday
would be a watering down of the teaching of Arkansas history in the public
schools, will seek a one-year moratorium on new teaching guidelines that are to
go into effect this fall.
Tom Dillard, president of the Arkansas History Education
Coalition, suggested the new guidelines for social studies, approved by the
state Education Board this year, violate a 1997 state law on teaching Arkansas
history and effectively reverse the group’s effort of at least the last 20
years to incorporate the subject into school curricula.
“We now face the prospect of Arkansas
history being removed from the curriculum in the schools of our state at least
effectively removed, if not completely so,” Dillard said at a news
conference at the main library in Little Rock.
Last year, the Arkansas Education Department led a committee
of educators to study revising the guidelines, as the agency routinely does for
the various subjects. The board then approved the guidelines, combining social
studies and Arkansas history into
one subject for kindergartners through sixth graders and requiring the teaching
of world history in seventh and eight grades, typically when Arkansas
history is taught.
Dillard noted that the 10-year-old state law, adopted he
said after the state Education Department failed to follow through on a promise
to beef up Arkansas history instruction in the schools, requires that schools
teach a unit of Arkansas history as a social studies subject at each elementary
grade “with greater emphasis at the fourth and fifth grade levels.”
In addition, he said, the schools must teach a full semester
of Arkansas history to students
between the seventh and 12th grades.
Dillard said the new guidelines could effectively reduce Arkansas
history to a mere mention to young students and could eliminate the subject
altogether from a high school student’s coursework. He said the world history
requirement in the new guidelines most likely would bump Arkansas
history into the higher grades, where teachers have no textbooks and few
materials on the subject and when students can elect to take other social
studies courses to graduate.
“We contend that the new social studies frameworks are
in violation of Act 787 of 1997 and we believe it’s in violation probably in a
variety of ways,” Dillard said.
Coalition members will meet with state Education
Commissioner Ken James on Thursday, when they plan to ask for the moratorium.
Also, Dillard said, the group will ask that Gov. Mike Beebe appoint a
blue-ribbon panel to study the guidelines and arrive at changes that preserve
the teaching of Arkansas history.
Last week, two new textbooks on Arkansas history were
published but they are geared for middle school classes. Dillard said the two
decades since Arkansas’ 150th sesquicentennial have been a building process
with the mission to change the poor condition of Arkansas history education in
the schools. He, other historians, and teachers stressed the importance of
continuing with that progress.
“What this latest action by the Department of Education
has done is to cut the legs out from under the people who have spent time,
effort and money in creating these materials,” said Tom DeBlack, president
of the Arkansas Historical Association and professor of Arkansas History at
Arkansas Tech University.
DeBlack stressed the importance of teaching children
“where they came from.”
“We need to give our students a real awareness of who
they are, of how they came to be as a people and what their possibilities are
in the future as part of the great American scheme,” Dillard said.
Dillard and others expressed disappointment with what they
said appeared to be an almost secretive process used by the Education
Department to arrive at the new guidelines.
But Julie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Education
Department, said in a telephone interview Saturday that the agency went to
great lengths to involve historians and educators in making the revisions.
She acknowledged that committee members were asked not to
discuss preliminary changes. But the agency used this “security
feature,” she said, to prevent a problem that occurred in 1992. In that
year, preliminary guidelines for math were released and some schools ended up
teaching to the wrong guide, she said.
Thompson said the new guidelines on Arkansas history do not
violate state law, and they maintain an emphasis on state history at the lower
levels. The guidelines for elementary schools provide more detail and,
therefore, create a greater likelihood that students will get more instruction
in Arkansas history, she said.
Thompson acknowledged that it was “unfortunate”
that the textbook review occurred the same year as the standards were revised,
and said the agency might have to take a closer look at what materials are
available for teaching Arkansas history in the high schools.
– Associated Press
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