Are there errors in the standards?

A previous post that questioned why standards are associated with ever-thirsting evil brought had comments that brought up another issue: inaccuracy within the standards.

Curious about what my master teacher thought, I asked her.

Any social science professor will tell you that the iron triangle is an outdated model by 30 years. “It’s really a dodecahedron-to-the-nth-power…” Blah, blah, blah.

Or that it’s wrong that we teach that Germany was fascist and that the Soviet Union was fascist, when the nations got there different ways.

University professors say, “When I find out what these kids learned in high school, I’m just so frustrated.” University professors have a whole semester to teach World War II, when we have three days.

Yeah, sometimes I want to pull my hair out when I find out how little they know. But we’re teaching kids without language, without vocabulary. We’re teaching kids who may or may not have had any history between sixth and eighth grades because math and English were more important because they’re on the test; these kids have no existing history scaffolding.

It’s easy to criticize us, but we’re the ones building a scaffold for their later knowledge.

Are there mistakes in the standards? I don’t think so. Calling them mistakes is as much a matter of vocabulary and perspective as anything. Maybe the standards are guilty, sometimes, of oversimplification. Maybe standards standards are guilty, sometimes, of being too hard.

Given our constraints, it’s a stretch to call those standards mistakes.

Does the same logic apply to math or English as it does to history? Does it even apply in this case?

Where are the flaws in your standards, or are there even flaws in the standards? Are they insurmountable?


  1. Howabominable (aka Lindsey ^_^)

    Nothing is perfect. I wish I had learned more in High School… there are a lot of things that we had to skip over due to time constraints, and teachers can’t be held responsible for the failings of teachers in previous grades. Even though it would be nice to know everything, this isn’t the perfect world. In my history classes we used all the time we were given, learned something new every day, never slacked off, but we still didn’t learn everything that we “should have.” That’s just life and reality. The standards are fine, maybe a bit high, but stuff happens and there is never going to be a perfect year where every student learns everything they were supposed to. You can’t control what the student learned or did not learn in junior high, all you can control is what they learn in your own class.

  2. I’m not sure where the mistake lies, but I do know that we teach a lot of things in language arts class that will have to be untaught at a college level. For example: where in the real world do we ever use a five-paragraph essay? When, in authentic writing, would we ever come up with our thesis BEFORE doing the research and exploration? The idea that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do certain things but not other things, often confusing the two, is frustrating as well. And yet, it is that way that we have to teach, because it is that way that will be assessed on the standardized tests.

  3. Lindsey: Naturally, I agree, but this strategy fails when the subject requires cumulative years of understanding. In history, you might be able to get away with isolating yourself pretty well, but skills-based subjects like math and English need continuous

    Kate: To be fair, the five-paragraph essay, properly taught, does lead to plenty of casual and professional forms of writing, if not the academic (authentic?) styles.

    Why can’t you teach this five-paragraph form and then quickly move on to other styles, reminding them the day before the test that state only cares about the stepping stone they’ve since surpassed?

    The test and the standards are only the limits of what students can learn in a year in the sense that they’re the minimum. Finding time, you can teach all the other styles and, to make sure students don’t forget the five-paragraph essay, teach the other styles in reference to the five-paragraph essay.

    Personally, I’m not convinced that the test is always a monster.

  4. Ancient Bearded One

    Are you and your master teacher using the California State textbooks in your history classes?

    Back when I was in junior high and high school (late 60’s and early 70’s) I remember that the text were boring, even for a kid that liked to read about history. Even my 8th grade text was boring, where there was a lot of content but the writing was flat.

    The books I’ve seen my kids bring home are so bad I can’t see why we spend any money on them. The writing is atrocious. They’re nearly content free, full of inaccuracies + misunderstanding + ignorance + distorions, and laid out like cheesy magazine advertising that distracts the attention rather then informs.

  5. We’ve used everything the publisher sends us except the textbook.

    Our students sometimes crack it open — say, to read the Bill of Rights towards the back — but we’ve rarely sat down and read the chapters.

    The publisher provides chapter summaries, and we’ll copy those and have the students read them and do the questions. That and the political cartoon handouts they provide are just about the only thing we regularly use.

    Generally, I’m more of a supplemental resources via current events kind of guy. For the civil rights unit next week, my students are going to attack one of today’s op-eds in The New York Times.

    It includes historical tidbits, like the status of Martin Luther King, Jr. between “I Have a Dream” and his assassination. People these days seem to gloss over that part of King’s life.

  6. I don’t know the CA history standards, so maybe there aren’t mistakes… I just think that we need to be willing to question the standards. After all, they were created by human beings, so why can’t we say that they’re not perfect and need fixing? *shrug*

    There’s going to be some simplification in a high school history course. I understand that. However, I think high school students are capable of developing an understanding of history as a complex, changing thing, as something that’s rarely as simple as people make it out to be. I’m still working on the how of teaching that well, but I think that how we tell the stories of our past matters immensely.

  7. This post was more a tangent than a personal retort, Ms. P, so I hope no offense was taken and I’m sorry if some was.

    Science can be just as complex and changing as history, but like that level of science I’d argue that that level of history would be over the heads of at least most lowerclassmen. The gifted students won’t have a problem, but there are enough integrated RSP students that I don’t think this approach could work in regular-level 9th and 10th grade history.

    If you’re really set on teaching the complex and changing parts of history, I have an idea: Steal some copies of the really old textbooks — like, from back when schools were still segregated — and then have students analyze the more objectionable excerpts.

    It’s all a matter of getting those textbooks, though.

  8. Not offended, just frustrated and it’s as much at myself as anyone else. I’m working on trying to figure out how to move from what I do (which involves too much slavish standard-following) to figuring out how to teach the standards well while incorporating more of the historical thinking I think matters. It’s pretty hard, and I’ve been seeing more and more places where I’m doing a bad job at the moment.

  9. So do I. That’s what student teachers and new teachers do.

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