The past two weeks, I have had the privilege of observing six social studies student teachers “strut their stuff” and teach lessons to students in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York. We really have some outstanding teachers this year who engage the students in learning the material (including such wonderful resources as political cartoons, primary source documents, and recruitment posters), and are excited to be in the classroom. At the same time, though, I also get to see some of the challenges that our public school systems face, particularly in the area of technology. Some schools are blessed with the latest (Promethian boards, projectors, etc.), while others are still using VCRs, overhead projectors, and chalkboards.
Textbooks are another issue. This semester, I have seen our student teachers using textbooks that refer to the native populations as “Red Men,” and the school district either does not have the funds to replace them or does not believe that it is an important investment (and, in this case, the textbooks are for a class in Pennsylvania history and do not include any mention of the state constitution adopted in 1968–because they were published in 1967). This week, I saw a student teacher who had the challenge of teaching a U.S. History class using a textbook that is inaccurate (no big deal, except that he was teaching about the U.S. Constitution–and the textbook had erroneous information about the approval of presidential appointments). At what point should student teachers–and all teachers, for that matter–decide that the textbook is no longer a useful tool and should be shelved in favor of using alternate forms of instruction (such as the Internet)? What is the responsibility of the teacher to correct inaccurate information? At what point can a student teacher safely question the regular teacher’s reliance on wrong information when instructing the future citizens of the world?
With standardized testing in social studies on the horizon (if not already in place, as is the case with New York and the Regents Exams), it will be interesting to see how social studies teaching evolves over the next few years. The one thing I would hate to see is “teaching the test”–in other words, history instruction being limited to what will be covered on the standardized exams, with no concern given to developing important skills like being able to craft an argument, to defend a position with evidence, and to demonstrate an understanding of basic historical “facts”–such as knowing how many states are in the United States, which U.S. presidents have been assassinated, and when Lincoln presented the Gettysburg Address.