I had a good day of teaching. I also had a bad half-hour right in the middle, due to a fracas with my master teacher. She ripped into me during lunch today in part because the students didn’t remember the difference between civil liberties and civil rights after 10 days of vacation.

On the last day of government instruction before break, I mentioned it. The class talked on it for 15 minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t want to cover it. I didn’t, and I still don’t, think that it was important. Neither, by the way, does the People’s Republic of California. I only covered it to begin with because she insisted that it was important.

It’s hard having a master teacher who demands that you kowtow to her old habits and prejudices. If you’re ever a master teacher, keep that in mind.

She continued to rip into me because I haven’t yet hit hard the history of the civil rights struggles during court cases.

I pointed out that there’s a whole 11th grade standard (11.10, as I looked it up later) on civil rights. I told her that they should have had that last year and that I’m not responsible to taking time out of my existing curriculum to reteach last year’s material. In particular, when I asked her if she had read the 11th-grade standards in a perhaps insulting tone of voice, she responded sharply and just as insultingly.

Have you read the 12th grade standards?

I told her that there’s barely a 12th-grade substrand (turns out it’s 12.5.4) on civil rights. Without saying it aloud, I began to think about how even then that standard requires a knowledge of precedents and the Bill of Rights — our current unit. Because I didn’t say that last part, she replied triumphantly.

But it is in there.

I reminded her of the planned student presentations on these court cases. Why change my existing planned curriculum to hit multiple times the smallest part of the course possible? Even so, she went on to opine in something that sounded a lot like this.

There’s so much transiency and moving around between schools that most 11th grade history teachers are happy if they get through World War II. The happiest ones might make it to Vietnam. These kids don’t know about the civil rights struggle.

How am I supposed to work with that?

This exchange begs a more general question: To what extent should we be determined to cleaning up the messes of our predecessors by teaching what they didn’t?

Moral of the story? If ever a master teacher ye be, be never this.


  1. First I find it interesting that you have so many discussions about curriculum with your master teacher. I would think that you would focus more on classroom management type of stuff. Very interesting.

    Second, I teach English, so forgive my ignorance. If Civil Rights is that important, why don’t you teach it at a different time. I understand that history happens chronologically, and that some things build upon others, but I don’t see why you can’t teach it at a more convenient time, like around MLKjr. day.

  2. My husband (student teaching 12th grade gov’t) and I were talking a bit on the subject of your mentor’s last comment. It IS a problem… the history curriculum, here anyway, was designed in the 70s. It’s hard enough to get from the Mayflower to the Civil War by the end of 9th grade, but then to get from the Civil War to modern times in 11th grade? Possible, when that was 110 years. Less so when it is 150.

    We came up with a solution: add a semester of “modern history” to the senior year. The kids would love that, right? 🙂

  3. Maybe it’s callous to phrase it this way, but is that material going to be on the 12th grade standardized tests? (They didn’t exist when I was in school, so I’m honestly curious) If not, then I steadfastly maintain that it doesn’t matter what they forget fact-wise, no matter how embarrassing, as long as they maintain their skills in historical analysis and synthesis Even if not, those can be taught/re-taught as a matter of course in pursuing the actual 12th grade curriculum.

    As for Kate’s point, which is certainly tenable, I would say that we merely need to refine our standards, even if it means marginalizing/ignoring certain eras. Personally, I think the Seven Years War, for example, is immensely interesting and important to American history. But I doubt many teachers are devoting more than a class period to discussing it, if that (correct me if I’m wrong). And that’s OK, really, so long as the students know the War’s most important consequences, which can be summed up in less than 5 minutes. Similar reasoning can be applied to the rest of our curriculum as well.

    History will always be too big for high school britches, but that doesn’t mean we are losing grip on our ability to dole out appropriate standards of knowledge. Of course, whether the powers that be recognize that fact is another matter completely.

  4. Jethro: The issue is that 12th grade isn’t history — it’s government. There’s a very brief and almost inconsequential history portion of the government curriculum that we’ve held off on so far, but it mostly has to do with party systems, the Enlightenment and the Articles of Confederation.

    The point of this course is not to brush up on the history of civil rights, though. That’s the point of the first eleven years of social science.

    Kate: I have my own pet solution that has the advantage of being throughly untested. Or, if you have a standard schedule, throw in some current events to brush up on recent political trends.

    If nothing else, it’ll imply some of the stuff that went on during that 40-year gap. Refer to U.S.-Iran relations and you’ll learn by proxy what went on in the ’70s and ’80s. Kinda.

    Neal: On the Seven Years War I’d lean toward the “if that.”

    I don’t believe that the powers that be will ever agree on much of anything. If they do, it won’t last long.

  5. dkzody

    At least your master teacher is discussing standards for senior class. Our senior teachers do not do that as those kids don’t take any tests so no one really cares what they learn. It’s not measured, so it’s not taught.

  6. That’s an odd counterpoint to the usual “Standards are oppressive and evil” line that most teachers I’ve met seem to espouse. I should ponder this wisdom.

  7. Tubajunkie

    In reply to Neal: at my high school, seniors don’t take any standardized testing. The seniors kick back during that week and start talking about graduation tickets.

  8. Good catch, Junkie. I suppose the only seniors taking a standardized test would be the ones who couldn’t figure out the CAHSEE the first 13 times around.

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