Can English teachers teach history?

UPDATE: BPS says it's NOT eliminating the department. I've locked the discussion here, please go to the new story to discuss.

We're going to find out next year, now that BPS has decided history and social studies no longer deserve their own departments but instead will become a humanities subset of schools' English Language Arts departments.

BPS says it's just an internal reorganization, nothing to see here, really, and if, anything, kids will be getting more history education:

In terms of what students will see, we will continue to increase the use of History and Social Studies texts used during English Language Arts instruction in order to increase the teaching of History and Social Studies content in all grades. We are also continuing to work with partners and teacher teams to add additional History elective courses in high school.

The Globe reports the reorganization is due in part to a report that paints the picture of dysfunctional BPS departments at war with each other.

Not everybody agrees people outside Court Street won't see any effects from the change. There's even a petition to Mayor Walsh:

Young people must receive high-quality history, civics and social studies instruction in partnership with local Boston institutions. It is thus unacceptable and indefensible that the Boston Public School executive staff would approve a restructuring plan to defund and demote the academic significance of History & Social Studies.



Free tagging: 


This made me realize

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This made me realize something... most people have English from 1st-12th grade. A whole class devoted to the English language and literature. Yet somehow the majority of people have a sub-elementary grasp on English and make very simple mistakes when speaking and especially when writing.

I went to a decent college and placed in the intermediate writing class (writing was required)... we spent a week (three classes) going over apostrophes, commas, semicolons, etc. How do you get into college without learning stuff like that? And what did they learn in the basic writing class? It really blows my mind how people spend years and years and years learning the mechanics of their native language and they still can't get it right.

When you have a culture

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.. that makes it hip to be stupid, you'll have these problems.

How are the money grubbers going to sell pet rocks to an informed and literate society?

And you can be amazingly stupid and still grub money well as it just wants tenacity.

Then when you put a lopsided importance on the individual over the group, expression of that exalted individuality trumps mastery of collective skills like adeptness in your native language.

I often think the advantage the EU has over us is the Nazi Occupation period was a long lasting refutation of this notion that being stupid is a virtue.

A culture is what its values are and we've made a virtue of cravenness, stupidity, narcissism and neurosis.

When problems ensue, it should surprise no one.

WTF is being "taught" in

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WTF is being "taught" in these classes? The children can't properly read, write, speak, or demonstrate any deep grasp of civics, geography, or history. So what is all the students' time and our money being spent on?

Yeah, so?

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There's more to Murrican history than just shooting out the whites of Redcoats eyes and Manifest Destiny and stuff.

I want my daughter, the BPS student, to learn about social justice (or lack thereof) in modern American history.

I'm tired of this

Really tired of this.

A generation ago, students left school not being able to read, write, or speak. That's because of idiots like the ones on the Medford School Committee who snapped at parents "if you want your kid to get an education, don't expect the public to pay for it - put them in the private schools".

Yep. For real. And those graduates of those schools are now working in some of the administrative offices, generating very poor grammar and spelling in memos to parents.

HOWEVER, I want to see hard evidence that now, fifteen years into MCAS and curriculum requirements, that this is still the case.

In other words, don't spew "everybody JUST KNOWS" talking points - PROVE IT.

Teaching a nonfiction text vs teaching history

Using well written nonfiction in English classes is a good idea, so long as it is taught for its value as literature rather than as a supplementary history or social studies lesson.

Using nonfiction texts in an English class in order to teach a different course-- history, social studies, or perhaps biology or astronomy-- creates problems:

- Material will be taught by teachers without the experience in that field
- The choice of what texts to use may be compromised, as good quality writing may be
rejected in favor of writing that better teaches the additional subject.
- Without restrictions placed from the beginning, this could lead to teachers being
burdened with using "double duty" texts to a degree that teaching writing and literature
suffers. Class time and text money is not endless.

Without the political overtones, this reminds me of the controversy with teaching the King James Bible as literature, or when creationist insist their beliefs be taught as science in public school biology classes. The King James is remarkable Elizabethan literature, and can be taught to older students as such without being a religion lesson; however it is inappropriate for an English teacher in a public school to teach religion, either as an academic study ot a proselytizer. The same can be said of a biology teacher.

Remove the charged issue of religion and many of the arguments remain-- an English teacher is not required to have the academic merit in history needed to teach it and should not be burdened with it, any more than a history teacher necessarily has the background in English.

Strikes me

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that we'll end up with teachers teaching works of historical fiction as fact, because they lack the historical knowledge to be able to help the kids sort out, say, that a particular historical event did happen but that a specific character was made up or a composite; or that a specific character did exist but that we don't know if he actually was madly in love with a girl from the opposing side.

I trust that most English

I trust that most English teachers understand that Romeo & Juliet are fictional :). However, Richard III would be a better example of a valuable literary text of questionable historical accuracy.

Although what I was really thinking about would be, for example, teaching Homage to Catalonia, Albion's Seed, and A Stillness at Appomattox. All are beautifully written. All are important historical texts. All are either unapologetically personal or biased, or are controversial in some of their historical assertions. I would say that at least Homage to Catalonia could be justified as a literary text (possibly the others as well) but we cannot reasonably expect an English teacher to have the expertise or the class time to provide the appropriate context for any of them.

Sorry, going rogue librarian here.

This change in teaching might help us with a problem!

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Yep, this is what we need, fewer people knowing anything about history and political participation. After all, our voting rate is much, much too high.

I don't know exactly how, but somehow, this is wrapped up with teaching for the purpose of doing well on high-stakes tests. I make no comment on whether that is a net benefit or detriment for society.

Reading is Important Too

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Did anyone actually read the report and see what they are doing? They are not merging kids english and history classes. They are doing a reorganization of the insanity at the Central BPS Office to bring these classes under the same umbrella. That report is very eye opening. There is serious disfunction in the Central office.