Education Week - January 30, 2013 - (Page 25)

EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 30, 2013 n Let’s Overhaul How We Teach History By Vicky Schippers T Vrola a potentially powerful tool, and I’m thrilled the Obama administration is considering putting it into practice, but we need more evidence before implementing any such interventions on a large scale. We also need broad and comprehensive approaches that promote health, as opposed to simply identifying illness and distress. I am not suggesting that teachers receive training comparable to that of mental-health professionals, nor am I advocating that teachers diagnose or treat young people in the way that licensed providers do; such propositions would be both unrealistic and dangerous. Instead, teachers should organize to spearhead the primary prevenPAGE 27 > LAURA C. MURRAY is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, in Philadelphia. Her work focuses on adolescence and the intersection of physical health, mental health, and learning in schools. Previously, she worked as a documentary filmmaker focusing on issues of mental health in youths. other innovative tools have transformed education, the simple fact is they can’t benefit all students without policies and funding that make these platforms accessible to everyone. As the authors of a recent report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association pointed out, “access to high-speed broadband is now as vital a component of K-12 school infrastructure as electricity, air conditioning, and heating.” Clearly, those without access to high-speed Internet at home are at a serious disadvantage in comparison with their connected peers. There’s no silver-bullet solution to the challenges to providing students the best education possible, but there are some concrete steps that we can—and must—take to give all students access to the technology they need to thrive. We need to pay attention to policy decisions such as whether the federally created Universal Service Fund, which has a strong record in providing phone service to rural and low-income communities, will succeed in helping to expand broadband Internet access as well. Implementation on the broadband front is still a work in progress. We also need to help ensure the technology industry will be required to have a truly competitive marketplace that results in more affordable services since this will affect how much access students have to online resources. For too long, these important debates have been kept in a silo of technologists and communication advocates. But school administrators, policymakers, teachers, nonprofit organizations, and funders who care deeply about the future of education in our country must all engage in these debates and call on the fcc, the Obama administration, and congressional leaders to strongly support and promote technology policies that provide the infrastructure needed for all students to get the leg up they need to graduate from high school, succeed in college, and compete in a digitally driven 21st-century economy. n HELEN BRUNNER is the director of the Media Democracy Fund, in Washington. he way history is taught in U.S. high schools should be completely overhauled. For the vast majority of students, history is presented as a litany of disconnected names, dates, and events to be memorized before an exam. Their other core subjects— English, science, and math—almost always pull in students who love reading or enjoy the intricate pleasures of numbers and theories. However, it is the rare student who finds anything edifying or relevant about history as it is taught in our classrooms today. My perspective is unusual. I tutor New York City students in a poor area of Brooklyn who, in spite of passing their other state-mandated regents’ exams in core subjects, have repeatedly failed their history exams and, therefore, cannot receive a high school diploma. Take a student I’ll call Tony, for example. He’s 20 years old with a 4-yearold son. He’s covered in tattoos: The “ [History] is relevant to the lives of every student, but none more than our most disadvantaged.” two most visible are on his neck and left hand. They both spell the name of his son. He sports two long silky black braids, is very skinny, and wears pants that hang around mid-thigh. I don’t know whether his drooping pants are a fashion statement or the result of his inability to afford a belt small enough to hold them up. Tony is desperate to pass this history exam because without a high school diploma, he will count himself lucky if he continues to be offered occasional work as a stock boy. What astonishes me about Tony, as it does about any of my students, is how little he knows about the world. The five or six blocks he travels between his home, school, and work circumscribe his entire life. At this point, there is no way Tony can pass his regents’ exam unless I “teach to the test”; in other words, we work our way through old exams, one multiplechoice question after another. Interestingly, it’s not boring for either of us. When we first started to study together, Tony, like all my students, had no sense of U.S. presidents, the sequence of wars in which the United States has been involved, the U.S. Constitution and the structure of government, and the central issues over which our democracy has struggled since we separated from England more than two centuries ago. He knew the name Abraham Lincoln, but drew a blank when I asked him which war Lincoln was associated with. He was unfamiliar with Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. Segregation and civil rights were not concepts he could articulate. He goes to a segregated school in Brooklyn, which is all black and Latino. He doesn’t question this because it’s all he has ever known. Tony lives with his mother, two sisters (one of whom is disabled), and his son. He doesn’t own a computer, and although he had a cellphone when we first started working together, it has since been disconnected. Tony’s goal to make a better life for his son is why I find tutoring him, and young people like him, so rewarding. Our discussion of George Washington led Tony to ask, “How can a person become president?” This led to a productive 15-minute discussion about the path to the presidency, the meaning of democracy and majority rule, and the importance of registering to vote. When our discussion of U.S. Supreme Court cases turned to Roe v. Wade, he asked in horror, “You mean my girlfriend could have had an abortion without telling me?” But it also got him thinking about federal legislation and how we pass laws. When I explained that the word “tariff” was equivalent to “tax”—what his employer takes from his paycheck— he asked where the money goes. This prompted a conversation in which I was able to introduce him to the word “infrastructure.” I explained that taxes finance the building of roads and telecommunication systems, as well as our other civic needs, including schools and hospitals. In this same discussion, he also learned that because he earns so little, he can file to have the money that’s been withheld from his paycheck returned. History is a study of struggles, setbacks, and victories. While Tony knew that the president is a black man, he became interested in learning the route Barack Obama took to achieve that remarkable stature. Tony’s love for his son and his core opposition to abortion made him think hard about Roe v. Wade, something I know he hadn’t given much thought to before. And the word “tariff,” which once sounded “old fashioned” to him, took on a new significance when he understood its meaning and context. History is not boring. More important, it is relevant to the lives of every student, but none more than our most disadvantaged. Rather than teaching it as a series of eye-glazing events, it should be presented in a way that affords students the opportunity to delve in; question; and, above all, see in history’s unfolding, how we, the people, have traveled from there to here; and how that journey is relevant to all of us. n VICKY SCHIPPERS is a volunteer tutor for underprivileged students and was a grant writer for a social service agency. She lives in New York City. 25

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 30, 2013

Education Week - January 30, 2013
Grad Rate At Highest Since 1970
Teachers Differ Over Meeting Nonfiction Rule
States Soon to Weigh Science Standards
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Scrutiny as Head Start Centers Recompete for Aid
Flu-Related Absenteeism Prompts School Closures
FOCUS ON: CAREER READINESS: Internships Help Students Prepare for The Workplace
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Competitions Connect Tech. Startups With Educators
School Choice Advocate to Lead Private Schools’ Group
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Digital Technologies Fuel Continued K-12 Acquisitions
Blogs of the Week
‘i3’ Raises Ante in Evidence, Research Push
GOP Players in Congress Step Forward On K-12
Policy Brief
Inauguration 2013
State of the States
LAURA C. MURRAY: Mental Health Is Part of the School Safety Equation
HELEN BRUNNER: Why Equal Internet Access Is an Education Essential
VICKY SCHIPPERS: Let’s Overhaul How We Teach History
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
CHARLES J. RUSSO: Armed Teachers And Guards Won’t Make Schools Safer

Education Week - January 30, 2013