Grateful American Book Prize

Common Core debate puts a focus on history for young learners

WASHINGTON, DC, May 19 – The national debate about Common Core State Standards is so controversial that it has become an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election. The program has also restored the focus on the importance of history for young learners, and on the way in which it is taught.

Eric Mace, a teacher at a Junior High School in Queens, NY, describes his students as “common core kids, inundated with common core, but they do not know the history of the United States.” Katherine Suyeyasu, a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher in Oakland, CA, says “As a student, what I did not yet know about history is that there always has been and always will be historical meaning to be made and arguments to be constructed. The Common Core Standards offer an exciting expectation that our students can and will engage in the rigors of this historical discourse.”

Who is right? These are two teachers, one on the east coast and the other on the west, with two different views of the impact of Common Core. Or are they both right?

Author and publisher David Bruce Smith is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. The award seeks to encourage authors and publishers to produce more children’s books of fiction and non-fiction that feature the events and people that shaped the U.S. History can use the help of a “good read” to generate enthusiasm among young people, he says.

Smith believes that “the rationale for the Common Core initiative is honorable. Every teacher and parent wants their students and children to flourish in school, and succeed in life, but the architecture of the program is too complex. Forty-three states have approved the Standards in principle, but no one knows exactly what they are.”

He thinks there is a way to achieve agreement on each side of the Common Core argument. “Why not excise the edginess of ‘business’ from the education model, and soften it with a return to the traditional methods which coalesced the qualities of the teacher with the curriculum, rather than concentrating on standardized tests and hold-the-date learning expectations? A dynamic teacher influences the extent of student interest and participation—an absolute necessity—that isn’t referenced.”

Ms. Suyeyasu is perhaps the ‘dynamic teacher’ to which Smith refers. She explains that “students need to analyze historical arguments that allow them to identify and evaluate authors’ claims and the evidence used to support them. Additionally, our students need multiple opportunities to try their own hand at making meaning through historical thinking and writing.”

She appears to agree with Smith that students can use a “good read.” “Teachers need access to a wide range of historical writing models beyond those offered in history textbooks,” she said.