WASHINGTON, DC, Apr 8 – History is positioned to make a comeback in the classroom, if teachers have their way, according to former Secretary of Education, Rod Paige.
Paige says the need to stress math and science cannot be denied at a time when national and global economies are dependent on knowledge of technology, “however, students – particularly those in middle and high school – also need to understand the context of the world in which we live.”
In recent years so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have been the focus of many educators and the humanities, including history, have been deemphasized. The result has been a disappointing lack of understanding about American history.
Teachers understand the importance of learning about the past, and they are going after new ways to engage their students. Many advocate reinstating history in the primary curriculum—especially in middle schools. And, they are investigating ways in which to present it, so it is more interesting. Some are supplementing classwork with independent reading that features actual events and personalities.
Author and National Elementary Teacher of the Year Tarry Lindquist is a leading proponent of using novels, biographies and other such reading materials as a means of bringing history to life for students. She puts it this way: “It hammers home everyday details. Picture books today provide visual and contextual clues to how people lived, what their speech was like, how they dressed, and so on. When accurately portrayed, these details are like a savings account that students can draw on and supplement. Each deposit of information provides a richer understanding of the period.”
The former education secretary, who is a judge for a new award for authors of historically accurate non-fiction and fiction books that engage early learners, is quick to point out that such books provide a powerful incentive. And, Paige says, the Grateful American™ Book Prize is designed galvanize authors and publishers to produce more such books. “The Prize will also hopefully inspire teachers, parents and guardians to motivate youngsters to read good books that reinforce their history lessons.”
There are plenty of studies that dramatically show how deficient school children are in the awareness of America’s past. Most of them don’t know who the first president was, why we fought for our independence, what the Declaration of Independence provides or how the U.S. became such an influential nation in such a short time.
Paige says that “History is an important and integral part of the foundation upon which our education system is built. It provides a logical context for our lives as Americans. It offers an understanding of how to overcome adversity and how to learn from our mistakes. It teaches us about ourselves—who we are, how the U.S. came to be a model for democracy in the world and why our melting-pot population has played and continues to play such an important role in the country’s development and success. If we don’t teach our children these things, they will be doomed to a lifetime of doubt and struggle.”