BPS: History and Social Studies department not being eliminated

All just a big misunderstanding, interim Superintendent John McDonough says today: Although BPS is trying to increase better integration of history texts in English class, it's not folding history and social studies into the English Language Arts department. In a statement, McDonough writes:

It is not being eliminated or folded into English Language Arts, which is also its own department and sits alongside History in our organizational structure. Both are crucial. They will remain as distinct departments, just as they do today.

History and Social Studies teachers will continue to teach History and Social Studies in our schools. Despite what you may have heard, English teachers are not being asked to take over the teaching of History and Social Studies.

Instead, we are improving and coordinating the use of instructional materials throughout all subject areas. This means we will improve our ability to support English teachers who wish to take advantage of historical lessons in their classes, and for History and Social Studies teachers who wish to take advantage of literature that frames an understanding of historical content. This is different than eliminating one course and asking another subject to take it over. This is about coordinating our curriculum at all levels and connecting the dots for students. To help us do this successfully, we are bringing these areas together under the Humanities umbrella. This allows us to maintain separate History and Social Studies, English Language Arts and World Languages departments while aligning ourselves academically to promote interdisciplinary cross-collaboration.

A BPS curriculum Web page that yesterday seemed to indicate the departments were being blended has been replaced today with a copy of McDnough's statement.



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    Trial balloon

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    ..that hit a pin and popped?

    It was sort of like making the orthopedics department cover a bit of heart surgery.

    I was gonna say.....

    This didn't seem right. Plenty of schools have humanity electives, team teachers, cluster classes that have back to back history/English etc, etc.

    I wasn't sure what all the hub bib was about but I figured it was some sort of misunderstanding.

    Actually, Humanities is taught in BPS

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    This is hardly the end of the world. It's been going on for years. As some have pointed out, at least ten BPS high schools teach Humanities, a combination of ELA and History as a four year requirement. They are: Fenway, Boston Arts Academy, Quincy Upper, Urban Science Academy, Boston Green Academy, Boston Adult Technical Academy, BLA (which had it for middle grades), West Roxbury Academy, Boston Day and Evening, and Greater Eggleston. There was also, for a time, a BPS Department of Humanities to support them, alongside the ELA and History departments. Compare how Humanities schools are doing with the traditional ELA/History schools and Humanities comes out looking at least as effective, if not more so.

    So while many people would like school today to look exactly as it did 100 years ago (or even 300 years ago), there is room for doing things differently as long as it benefits kids. I'm glad BPS embraces both approaches. The Common Core is definitely more Humanities-friendly, with its emphasis on depth over breadth and argument-based writing that can be use in both ELA and History. But you can do it the traditional way too.

    The real challenge is to make sure all BPS students are reading challenging texts and writing serious papers all the time. You'd be surprised how great the disparity is between schools in what and how much they read and write, even at the same grade level (it can often be hugely different within the same building too). The real work for BPS is to demand that the products kids work on are of high quality across the system. The curriculum they are supposed to absorb means much less than the products they are asked to create.

    Watered down

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    I know of one Boston Public Schools high school that has a Humanities curriculum in which students don't read ANY books -- no history books, no literature. They read photocopies of articles that the teachers provide, on themes related to the school's theme of the year. The themes and articles are very "politically correct." The class tends not to allow much room for students to read anything more than these photocopied articles or to be exposed to the breadth of literature and history or to exercise independent thinking.

    P.S.: It always irks me when people say "So while many people would like school today to look exactly as it did 100 years ago..." This is a standard argument used by people who want to justify their pet project in education. As if change automatically is good and "100 years ago" is automatically bad.

    With watershed changes ahead

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    .. the most useful and important thing an anxious parent can do is to instill a sense of curiosity and wonder.

    If you can encourage a fondness for lore and discovery, you're most of the way there.

    We are rapidly moving to a time when all the stuff of schooling and texts that has obtained forever is passing from the scene.

    The foundations of what should be there for curriculum will remain and some equivalent to a book will still matter.

    But the Dewey Decimal system will give way to the search query and a part of critical thinking will involve discovering the provenance of a web site.

    With the ability to easily combine several elements such as text, images and video on a page, it will be valuable to teach content craft.

    It could be amazing. Students could set up blogs as a way to present their findings and even contribute to the expansion of what can be learned.

    The general outlines of what is worth knowing have been fairly consistent since Socrates but the specifics of how knowledge is conveyed have changed profoundly and this is where the adaptations will come in.

    100 years ago

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    Isn't the way school was taught 100 years ago the way it was taught when we raised a generation of engineers who sent men to the moon with only slide rules for computers? Seems there's a lot to be said for that.

    100 years ago we also took

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    100 years ago we also took the poorest immigrants from all over the world in, taught them a common language, and core skills, which allowed them to raise the Greatest Generation, win WWII, and set about one of the greatest economic and scientific expansions in history in the postwar period. I guess our education system back then must have been terrible and needed massive tinkering to turn it into the great success it is today!


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    I am immediately turned off when people start spewing words like "products" when it comes to education. What products??? Are you talking about a school or an assembly line in a factory?

    Or do you mean the books that students read and the papers that students write?

    Public sector people

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    .. have been so pummeled by uncritical worship of all things corporate that they engage in these shabby legitimacy ploys.

    Most are too chicken shit to just say.. "no.. we don't need more meddling from silicon valley venture wannabes and info-tech know it alls."

    As an intensive end user of the stuff they do cook up I'd as soon see em stick to their knitting until the ability to tell if something is a bug or a feature is no longer an issue.

    If you think about it, the whole idea of a child learning that the flying singing red thing is a cardinal soars well above any sense of 'production'.

    BPS History teachers and students still need your support

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    This is BPS spin. They are still eliminating the central office department. There were four members of the department: one director and three coaches (elementary, middle, high) and they have all been pink slipped. Downtown is looking to hire director for new "Humanities" department and the job posting makes no mention of candidates having any history-related experience. People signing the petition have mistakenly interpreted it as saying that history is being eliminated all together. History and social studies are not being eliminated thankfully, but this is still a real issue.

    Here's an example

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    ..of where I see it going in a post book world.

    http://youtu.be/-pTUXSdVzqc is from the north shore, an Essex County school project.

    Instead of a book report, you have integrated media content.

    And the end result was so thorough and charming I used it for a blog post.

    If each kid got an elph 110 point and shoot and a chrome book they would have the basics for making content. The vid quality rocks and the pics are great. There are phones that are probably better but then you have data charges.

    It is typical that the Boston suits have it exactly upside down. A solid grounding in why history exists as a learning category is a given.

    If you mess with stuff it should be focused on transition from this threadbare set of learning props and move to something that resembles the world beyond school.

    Think of the absurd disconnect for nearly all kids when they are shoved in this archaic babysitting learning pantomime and then they go home and have any thing they want to know about at their fingertips.

    And they have a ready ability to make beautiful useful stuff that is beyond the wildest dreams of those now gone.