In a comment that you should all read, Liz Dejean directs our attention to Teachingbooks.net as an example of the kind of “clearning house” that Mary Ann desecribed. Indeed Nick was kind enough to interview me about history and, most recently, Marina and me about our Sugar book. So yes it exists, is a rich resource, is aimed at teachers, and it does focus on trade books. She also mentions another which I don’t know called Thinkfinity — tell us more. Liz goes on to suggest that the problem is not the lack of a resource but a lack of time — that teachers are so pressed to have students produce testable results that they, and the schools, and the school testing folks rely on what is relatively easy to measure — multiple choice discrete facts, not rich, thoughtful, engagement with history.
Certainly Liz is right to point us to existing resources and the pressures on teachers. And yet: at NCSS I spoke to over 200 teachers who had made time to come there and who, since, have emailed me and Dr. O’Brian to ask for more resources in order to teach new ideas that are not only not on tests, they contradict what is in textbooks. Of course this was the most self-selected group of motivated teachers. But that is the very point — the issue really is not time it is a choice of how to use time. I hope I don’t sound dismissive, but librarians are pressed for time and their jobs are in danger, authors are pressed for time and anxious about the future of print, I am not sure why the pressure on teachers is so different. Am I missing something?
One expert I spoke with put it this way — he sees teachers as in a particular bind. They are weighed down by necessity, and yet somewhere in there is a yearning to teach, to make the classroom meaningful, to engage students with something — whether that is civics, or history, or a social conscience, or the laws and principles of our nation. The question is how to speak to that yearning without coming across as ignorant of the daily pressures. Mary Ann sees this as a problem in how teachers are trained. Shirley suggested that English and Social Studies be combined — as indeed they were in every year of my pre-college education — so that teachers are simultaneously exploring the riches of fiction and of social historical context. Liz puts it down to time and testing.
As a historian I see a result with an incomplete cause — we can describe the behavior of social studies teachers better than we can explain it. Indeed my contact with NCSS suggests that, as a group, they are feeling embattled, unimportant, marginalized by NCLB’s focus on minimum standards of reading and language arts, sidelined by a national culture in which history is more an avocation (adults read about that corner of the past that they find interesting) than a core of who we are as a society, as a nation, battered by competing views of the past tied to competing political programs today, belittled by the world of the now where the newest technology seems much more vivid and important than Henry Clay, or the Monroe Doctrine, or teasing out the sometimes racist and anti-semetic strand in populist progressivism. In other words is the problem lack of time or lack of belief — lack of a sense that what they are doing is important, so important that their students must have better tools? Do we need a self help revival movement for social studies teachers to help them believe again?