Monday, February 21, 2011

NM Gets D in History, Up from F

The Thomas B Fordham Institute (, a Washington, D.C., think tank, offers the slogan, “Advancing education excellence.” In pursuit of that mission, the institute periodically reviews education standards in the states. The history standards review appeared February 16.
New Mexico got a D in the new report, “up,” if one can say that, from an F in 2003. New Mexico joined 27 other states with a D or an F. Only South Carolina got an A.
The report pulls no punches.
From the section in the introduction on The State of State U.S. History Standards. “Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer some form of U.S. history standards. These run the gamut from impressively comprehensive to uselessly vapid… The most pressing and common defect in state standards is the submersion of history in the vacuous, synthetic, and anti-historical “field” of social studies
“In fact, “social studies” is more than a method of organizing content: It is an ideology that has steadily evolved and adapted since the early twentieth century. However, its central concept remains immovable: Positing trans-historical (and often ahistorical) interpretive “concepts” over historical facts and context, it splits the past into arbitrary and thematic “strands.” It exemplifies the self-defeating “how-to-think not whatto-learn” mentality, favoring jargon-laden thinking and learning skills over specific content. Many states with the most smug introductions — touting abstract and un-measurable social studies aims, even as they boast of excellence, thoroughness, and comprehensiveness — have the worst and least substantial standards. Indeed, social studies practitioners often openly reject the notion of core curricular substance in history. Students are instead expected to analyze concepts, using whatever knowledge they may happen to acquire. They are asked to focus on what is relevant to their contemporary concerns and developing selfhood — an invitation to judge the past through a present-day lens, rather than to understand it in historical context. (This tendency is commonly known in the education field as “presentism.”)
This sounds like what I didn’t like in “Telling New Mexico, A New History,” which was created for the new New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.
New Mexico’s approach to U.S. history contains an odd emphasis to the Iroquois, the report says. For me Iroquois government is well worth perhaps a paragraph, but no more. The Iroquois also played a significant early role in New York, but again, a paragraph or maybe two. This reminds me of the repeated discussion in “Telling” of the film “Salt of the Earth,” which got five pages.

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