Saturday, May 15, 2010

Common standards for multiple legacies

Explaining why common core social studies standards may take more negotiation among the states, Commissioner Holliday pointed out that "there are people in South Carolina who still think the South won the Civil War." Our Commissioner is, of course, a native of the Palmetto state.

I'm the daughter of Georgia parents, and my first thought was that the folks who think that way in the Peach State tend to call that conflict more simply "the War."

That's not the heritage I claim.  I  call myself a "one-flag Southerner," and that flag is the Stars and Stripes.  I'm quite glad the United States won that war, openly impatient with people who even pretend they wish our Union had been sundered.  

Still, I'm Southern enough that I see every part of American history as pivoting around the struggle between North and South and the damage slavery and its aftermath did to our economy, our culture, and our politics.

That's not the only way to tell our story.

Recently, I spent a Saturday morning studying the Indiana standards for U.S. History.  The Fordham Foundation ranks the Indiana work highly, and my hunch is that they'll play a shaping role in drafting the common core approach to that subject.

What struck me first in reading the Indiana approach was that westward expansion loomed almost as large as slavery in their version of which 19th-century events should be well-known to 21st-century students. 

Next, thinking about a recent visit to California and a family trip to New Mexico, I remembered that "westward expansion" is itself a loaded interpretation.  There's a way of telling those states' history that starts from Spain and Mexico, and joins other states by reaching east and north.  There's yet another way to tell the story that starts with being on this land long before Ponce de Leon and before John Smith and before the Pilgrims.  In that version, "we" met "everyone else" as they got off their boats from wherever they started.

Weaving those threads into a single statement that works for people from many locations and legacies will not be a quick project.

A shared version of social studies is going to require a kind of work that won't be needed for math or literacy or science.  Important work, good work, work worth doing, but hard work all the same.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Ann BlankenshipMay 15, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    My Southern (Alabama) family was enlightened enough to call it the War Between the States. My husband's Southern (Virigina) grandmother called it "the late great unpleasantness." Figure if the semantics are even divisive, I can imagine how difficult the substance of our history as a country is.


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