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Curriculum & Instruction        < Previous        Next >


Quality Grade-School History Curriculum


Q. Whatever happened to history in grade school?


Here's an excerpt from the National Council for History Education's curriculum guide, "Building A History-Centered Curriculum for Kindergarten Through Grade Four." The excerpt was part of longer section which appeared in the monthly "History Matters," December, 2001:


"During the first four decades of the 20th century, the presence of history in lower grades needed no special defense or explanation. Along with geography and civic education, history was a recognizable part of both traditional and progressive curricula. Early peoples, heroes, myths, biographies, poems, national holidays, fairy tales, and historical legends formed the heart of K-4 history instruction. As one writer observed, "The line between historical literature and general literature was virtually nonexistent." But the Great Depression spurred a shift in social and educational thinking, and by the 1940s a content-rich curriculum had been replaced by the sociologically based "expanding horizons" framework, typically: "Me" (kindergarten), "My Family, My School" (first grade), "My Neighborhood" (second), "My Community" (third), and "My State" (fourth grade)."


"This curriculum became so entrenched that its basis in child development was assumed inviolable. But during the 1980s, psychologists and educators began to reexamine the developmental premises of 'expanding horizons.' The researchers were forthright in their denunciations. 'There is little beyond ideology to commend the (expanding horizons) program and its endlessly bland versions,' wrote New School professor of psychology Jerome Bruner. Teachers College professor Philip Phenix confirmed what many elementary teachers already knew: 'Although teaching must obviously take account of where the student is, the whole purpose of education is to enlarge experience by introducing new experiences far, far beyond where the child starts. The curious, cautious, timid presumptions that the limits of expansion are defined in any one grade year by the spatial boundaries defining expanding boundaries dogma is wholly without warrant. Young children are quite capable of, and deeply interested in, widening their horizons to the whole universe of space and time and even far beyond that into the world of the imaginary. And all of this from Kindergarten years, or even before.'"


Homework: An example of a quality history curriculum for primary grade levels is the Core Knowledge series, You can browse the syllabus by grade level in most bookstores, which should stock the books.


By Susan Darst Williams Curriculum 03 2008


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