Jacksonville Journey

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 29 2012


When I heard I was placed in high school social studies, I always hoped I would be able to teach AP classes. Those were some of the most challenging classes I had in high school, and the lessons I learned in there were truely life lessons. My first year of AP classes taught me time mangement, scheduling, and more about the country I live in than any other class I have ever taken. I remember doing the prep work over the summer and pouring over the first 6 chapters of the AP US History text book. I remember getting that perfect 5 score back and celebrating. I remember that teacher(Mrs. Reilly) and how she pushed us.

But. Recently I started reading Lies My Teacher Told Me (B&N link)  (wikipedia link) recently. Most of it I expected- a lot of history has been white-washed, women taken out of it, and anything else that wasn’t a White European Descendant was basically taken out. Some thing I think he argues are just semantics. (Like who the US “bought” the LA purchase from. He claims that ‘we’ just bought the “claim” to the land, but continued buying the land through out the century by paying the Native Americans. And we couldn’t buy the land from the French, and do so without knowing that they didn’t really own it. I think ‘we’ did and could. Arrogance is an amazing thing in white people [Disclaimer- I'm white].)

But much of what he brings up is supposedly well documented. I use “supposedly” because I am reading this on a Nook e-reader, and don’t often flip to the back to read his citations, just to keep reading. I am assuming they are backed up.

This book has reinforced my desire to bring my feminism and empowerment into my classroom. I want to help my students discover their own abilities. I want to empower them. I want them to learn the real history of the US/world/government. I don’t want them to think that they aren’t a part of it in any meaningful way just because they happen to have been born into what is considered a minority in the US.

This brings me to the conflict and decision I will have to make. Especially if I have to teach an AP class, possibly less if I do not teach AP, but rather just “normal” history (I don’t know if FL has a social studies comprehensive exam yet- they keep adding them). Do I teach them what they need to pass the test to the best of their ability, knowing that what I am teaching them is false and could potentially de-motivate them? But this could allow them to pay less in college, if they pass the exam. Or do I teach them the different history of the world that our white-male-protestant-textbook writers/majority influence people but is potentially more True? But could hinder their ability to pass the exam?

I don’t have to make this decision yet, and I might not ever have to. But the thought is in my brain. So I reach out to all the other teachers who have ever been in my position in any subject, or any future teachers who can see the same conflict arising, with a simple question: What did you do?

6 Responses

  1. T

    Don’t stress about this. There are way too many other things that you’ll have to stress about; this shouldn’t be one of them.

    If you want to keep your job a second year, you’ll need to prepare the students to pass the test.

    However, if you’re going to do that, you’re also going to have to include alternate perspectives, talk about what is included in history and what isn’t, critically analyze history, tell the “truth” about our “heroes,” etc etc.

    To teach history effectively, you need to focus on critical thinking, analysis, etc, not just regurgitation of facts. I think you’ll find that you can’t prepare your students for the end of year exam without including minority perspectives.

    My best advice is to observe as many history teachers as possible before Institute. Take notes on what you like and what you don’t like, ask them how they manage this balance, and talk to them about pedagogy. The more you observe and ask questions, the more prepared you will be to create your own lessons.

    I hope that helps!

  2. JM

    I do both (MS..Baltimore). Teach the history that is necessary to be a functioning potential college/career adult…but also, when the opportunity and lessons present themselves, tackle the big issues of Euro-centric history. Not all of our history is white-washed nor should it be approached from only one angle. If you use the common core you will actually be encouraged (in a way) to really analyze different perspectives and give them the skills to interpret and analyze history and make the best use of the information presented.

    Presenting all sides is actually more fun and a better learning tool, it is just incredibly difficult and you will need to be careful to not turn your public school classroom into an anti American history room. (Also, it is easier to do in more advanced grades when they already have some basic background knowledge of US history or Eurocentrism)

    Good Luck!

  3. Emma

    I would say do a bit of both – teach then the ‘official’ narrative and expose them to the ‘alternative’ facts of history and always ask WHY are these two different? Any AP examiner/reader that reads an examine which analyzes the given narrative and discusses the bias in the documents/questions has give credit to critical thinking and analysis (I would!)

    For more teaching resources on alternate versions and leftout voices of history, read Howard Zinn’s THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES and a website of additional resources developed by his fans/followers who are educators.. http://zinnedproject.org/

    I wish I had known about these resources when I was teaching government/history! Good luck.

  4. AA

    Interesting that they’re placing in Social Studies again next year. DCPS put a freeze on new social studies teachers this year, so all of the corps members who went in thinking they would be placed in SS ended up in various other subjects (anything from reading to kindergarten to algebra II). I suppose they’ll have to hire new teachers this year though, so hopefully it won’t be a problem for you!

    • no.All states requrie a credential to teach. You can get it traditionally simply a 2 year credentialing program. or an alternative program provides the same requriements but you will be placed in a classroom earlier.Both requrie 2 years of back to school. You need methods and curriculum courses, you’ll need to pass a number of tests and you will need your student teaching. Was this answer helpful?

  5. Meg

    Definitely teach both…believe me, if you’re a a school that’s mostly nonwhite, your kids will absolutely understand what “whitewashing” is, and they’ll very quickly understand why history is presented the way it is.

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