Historical societies, history museums, and local government Historians often seek ways to expand the range of people they reach and serve. They might want to consider expanding their work of reaching out to and cooperating with school social studies teachers. We also need more opportunities for the state’s history community and its social studies community to dialog with each other.
Three potential starting points
1. The Education Department has issued a Social Studies Field Guide which explains some of the goals of social studies education.
2. New York State history is not covered as much as we might like in the current Social Studies Framework. But there are two places where it does receive coverage, and one other where New York is not covered but there still may be potential for more work by the state’s history community:
*The Grade 4 Framework is entitled “New York State and Local History and Government” though coverage of New York history tapers off after about the mid-19th century and local history really is not covered at all.
*The Grade 7/8 Framework is titled “History of the United States and New York State” but in fact it focuses on U.S. history, with New York receiving little attention.
*The Grade 11 Framework focuses on “United States History and Government.” New York is not represented here but, given the fact that New York is arguably the nation’s most historically significant state, with many national trends starting here or playing out here, there is potential for infusing New York examples.
3.. The Education Department has also published a Resource Toolkit which offers suggestions for teaching some historical topics, but they are mostly U.S. and not New York.
Potential points of connection
There are opportunities, particularly at the Grade 4 and 7/8 level, for integrating local, state, and national history, but it is up to historians and teachers to determine how best to do that. In fact, the preface to the Grade 7/8 Framework includes this short, but rather open-ended, suggestion:
“Teachers are encouraged to incorporate local features of state history in the course, such as the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, the Germans in the Schoharie Valley, the French in the Champlain Valley, Fort Niagara, the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the Seneca Falls Convention, Underground Railroad locations, war memorials, and other features in their community.”
There are at least five routes to connecting with teachers:
1. Emphasizing key themes that are included in the Social Studies Framework. For instance, in the area of diversity, it is useful to note that throughout its history, New York has always been one of the most diverse (often, the most diverse) state. Many important developments started here, e.g., the nation’s first state civil rights law, enacted in 1945.
2. Explaining the connections among local, state, and U.S. history. This helps students make connections with the communities where they live and what they see every day. It helps make history relevant by enabling them to make personal connections.
3. Using historical documents, which conveys history first-hand and also dovetails with other objectives of social studies such as critical analysis of source material.
4. Conveying history in the form of stories about interesting people and events. Local historians are particularly adept at this because they know local history so well. It is a proven way to engage young people.
5. Carefully planned student visits to historical societies, museums, historic sites, etc.
State Council for the Social Studies
Local historians might consider joining the New York State Council for the Social Studies which has expanded its work, launched a new website, and completed a very successful annual conference in Albany last month, attended by more than 500 teachers.
Historians might want to consider proposing sessions at the 2018 conference, which will be held next March, and once again in Albany.
The Council had a journal in the past but now it is publishing a new, expanded, online journal jointly with the New Jersey State Council for the Social Studies, Teaching Social Studies. Historians might consider approaching the editor, Mark Pearcy at Rider University, about writing an article for the journal.
I developed an article for the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of the journal on “Integrating New York History Into the Grade 4 and Grade 7-8 Social Studies Framework.” It includes advice for them to reach out to local historians and community history programs and highlights a number of program-based and online resources. Readers of this post might find it of interest. It is available online on pages 55-62 of the Winter/Spring issue of Teaching Social Studies.
Suggestions for teachers for getting started
I also made a presentation at a session at the Council’s Albany conference last month on integrating New York history and social studies. A number of teachers who attended were interested in drawing on state and local history to enrich their courses. In addition to the suggestions in the article referenced above, I offered these suggestions for teachers at the session:
*Ask students to write an essay on “What Does It Mean to be a New Yorker?” during New York State History Month (November).
* Encourage and work with students to enter the New York History Day competition.
* Encourage and work with students to enter the New York State Archives Student Research Award competition.
*Study the first State Constitution (1777) and current State Constitution (changed several times after 1777, rewritten in 1894, revised in 1938, amended many times since then) in the fall, a timely topic because voters will decide in November whether to hold another state constitutional convention to revise or replace the current document.
*Invite the officially designated local government historian from your community to do a presentation or presentations on a historical topic or topics, tying local, state, and U.S. history together.
*Invite a historian from a nearby college or university history department, New York State historic site, National Park Service historic site, or local historical society, to talk about their work or a specific topic e.g, “How Do We Really Know What Happened in History?”
*Arrange for a visit to the local library, historical society, or a state or federal historic site.
* Access and draw on the State Archives’ publications on teaching with historical records.
*Study the career of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), organizer of the famous Seneca Falls women’s rights convention in 1848 and a champion of women’s rights in New York and at the national level for the next 5 decades.
*Study the career of Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), the first black man to play in major league baseball, starting with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, an outstanding athlete, and also a major champion of civil rights.
*Build course units around one or more of the key events that should be commemorated in New York this year — e.g., the first State Constitution (1777), the end of slavery in New York State (1827), Erie Canal (1817), votes for women in New York State (1917), or U.S. entry into World War I (1917) — or some key local historical event.
*Arrange a visit to town hall, village hall, city hall, or the county court house to see and have an official (e.g., Clerk or Archivist) show and explain the origin and significance of early documents such as maps, deeds, or minutes of the governing board.
*Research the history of your school — when it was built, why it was built in this location, whether it has been expanded, and what preceded it, e.g., older (possibly historic) buildings or one-room schoolhouses.
*Research the historical significance of a historic building, historic site, or building on the National Register of Historic Places and why government policies protect historic buildings.
*Study the “Path Through History” website maintained by the “I Love New York” office of the New York Department of Economic Development. How do they select historic sites to be included on the website? What local or nearby sites are listed there, and why? What should you look for when visiting a historic site?
Of course, these are just a few possibilities.
Building broader connections
Going forward, it would be helpful to build stronger ties between the state’s social studies and history communities. Three possibilities:
1. Advocate more coverage of New York state and local history the next time the Social Studies Framework is revised.
2. Develop a website, blog, or other forum for social studies teachers and historians to interact. For instance, history programs could promote their holdings and services that are particularly relevant to teachers and students and post digital document packets. Teachers could post about how they are using and integrating these materials. There might also be possibilities for online collaboration. This might be a useful project for the State Education Department and the State Social Studies Council working in tandem.
3. Develop a broad, cooperative initiative involving teachers, historical programs, local Historians, history professors, and others. the California History-Social Science Project might be one possible model.