Size Matters: Advocating for New York History


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Since my emergency post of April 22 a lot has happened.

1. MANY/Museumwise held its annual conference
2. APHNYS held its annual conference at the same time
3. The NYS Board of Regents met
4. Gov. Cuomo created a New York Education Reform Commission
5. Gov. Cuomo’s “Path Through History” initiative scheduled a meeting for May 21

Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of some of these developments.
The following email was sent to members of the Capital District Council for the Social Studies from report by Eileen Devine Gerrish, the Law, Youth & Citizenship Program Director at the New York State Bar Association who attended the NYS Regent’s Board meeting on April 23.  Please note the reference to individual communications to individual regents presumably by teachers and the request to solicit feedback from key stakeholder groups in her report.

“On the agenda was a discussion (no vote on this was scheduled) to explore new pathways to earn a NYS diploma. Of interest to social studies educators were several proposals from NYSED that included making the Global History and Geography Regents Exam optional for some students who might be interested in an alternative diploma.

Several Regents were quite vocal in defending that all students have some form of Global History and Geography, though many were receptive to altering the current two-year course. Regent James Dawson, District IV, noted Global Studies is a “critical piece,” of a NYS education.  Global provides critical skills such as reading, thinking and analyzing, he added. “To be a strong citizen of the US, you need to have global knowledge.” He noted eliminating the course for some was “too far,” and not acceptable. “This is more than tinkering with requirements,” he added.   Regent Roger Tilles, District X, agreed, though noted that there needs to be flexibility. Regent Harry Phillips III, District IX, would rather see the course and exam split into two, so students were not tested on two years of content in one exam.  Regent Kathleen Cashin, District II, noted “global studies is essential. Not even an option not to have it mandatory.”

Regent James Tallon Jr, District VI, was also a strong advocate of Global Studies. He complimented the global studies and social studies teachers statewide. “Not only did I get hundreds of letters over the weekend, they were all individual letters.” He called for more feedback from the field over the next few months before the Board makes a decision.

As the discussion was ending, Regent Dawson reminded the groups that to not test students in Global would lead to diminished resources for the social studies. Regent Tilles asked that the discussion be added to the Board’s July retreat agenda.

Next steps, as published on the NYSED proposal are:

1. Provide opportunity for public feedback on these recommendations via posting on the Department website, as well as soliciting feedback from key stakeholder groups including teachers, principals and superintendents.

2. Use the May meeting for the Board to hear from a regional sample of districts, BOCES, institutions of higher education, etc. to solicit additional feedback.

3. Provide recommendations for the Board’s consideration at the June 2012 meeting.

4. Work with districts to identify existing funding sources that could be leveraged to support new CTE and STEM pathway programs (including the Race to the Top School Innovation Fund, Round II).

The full proposal is available online [pdf]:

Our Regent James Dawson was to be commended. Great ally as we go forward. So is Tallon, who wants teachers consulted before a change.”

The implications of this report for American history including New York history are significant.  We can observe here the effectiveness of the advocacy effort by the stakeholders on behalf of global history with hundreds of letters (probably emails) as a direct result of the efforts of the New York Council for the Social Studies email which was included in my emergency post of April 22.

Who are the stakeholders for New York History? Bruce Dearstyne listed some of them in his post in response to mine:

Association of Public Historians of New York State
Museum Association of New York (which includes NYSOPRHP)
New-York Historical Society (which is not a member of MANY)
New York State Historical Association (and the academic community)
New York State Bar Association (citizenship is not a stated goal of the core curriculum).

One should also include the New York State Council for the Social Studies.  Undoubtedly there are other groups as well such as the New York State Archives and the Museum which includes the New York State Historian.

What needs to be done?

1.  The time is long past due to create an umbrella advocacy group on behalf of New York History.  I suggest the meeting scheduled by the New York Museum on May 21 for the “Path Through History” sign initiative serve as an initial gathering for the creation of such a group.

2. Two immediate agenda items which come to mind are gaining a seat at the table for the discussions related to the core curriculum as well as the pathways to high school graduation debate currently underway with the Regents.

3. Other agenda items were proposed by MANY (with some rewording):
a. Improve NYSED’s understanding of the (history) museum community it regulates and put museums on the same level as libraries, archives, and public broadcasting in its policies and funding.
b. Recognize the economic engine and force of cultural heritage tourism and help develop it.
c. Create easy-to-access information both online and in signs for teachers, tourists, and the general public about the existence, identity, programs, and resources of the history organizations.

4. Finally, develop grass roots support.  While the teachers unions are large the actual number of members of the various social studies councils is small.  Similarly while statewide history organizations hold state-wide conferences which draw a few hundred people at most, the regional and local units remain defunct.  The county history conferences which I have been proposing in multiple posts are the best and most effective way to generate growth of the history community at the local level and for creating cooperation among the different constituencies.

SIZE MATTERS and the squeaky wheel gets the grease so let’s organize and advocate at the local, regional, and state levels starting now.

Peter Feinman founder and president of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education, a non-profit organization which provides enrichment programs for schools, professional development program for teachers, public programs including leading Historyhostels and Teacherhostels to the historic sites in the state, promotes county history conferences and the more effective use of New York State Heritage Weekend and the Ramble.

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