A committee of Oakland teachers, grade K-12, was charged with the responsibility of developing districtwide standards for history instruction. Underlying this charge was the belief that standards are an important cornerstone upon which to build a districtwide history curriculum and assure its instruction. The goal of the committee was to develop standards which would:
- provide continuity for students as they move between grades;
- provide a common point of reference so that student learning, districtwide, can be measured;
- serve as concrete guides for teachers as they develop curriculum to help students meet the standards set out by the district
- promote educational equity through a set of common goals and expectations for students in classrooms throughout the district.
This introduction provides an overview and discussion of the standards, as developed by the committee of teachers, for districtwide history instruction. The teachers represented schools throughout the district.
What Are Standards?
History instruction in Oakland, K-12, has been guided by the district's Core Curriculum. This curriculum's content is based upon the scope and sequence for history education outlined in the California "HistorySocial Studies Framework." This outline provides a detailed description of topics to be covered in grades K12. For example, the Framework's discussion of what students should study in the 5th grade (United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation) includes "The Land and People Before Columbus" and "The War for Independence." In the 10thgrade (World History, Culture and Geography: The Modern World), the Framework includes such topics as "Unresolved Problems of the Modern World" and "The Rise' of Imperialism and Colonialism: A Case Study of India."
The Core Curriculum and the State Framework outline what students should learn about history. But the study of history includes more than just learning what happened; it is also being able to critically examine historical evidence, to compare conflicting historical accounts, and to weigh the meaning of past events for the present. Fundamentally, history is a learning process that involves more than just memorizing specific facts, dates, names, and Places. Yet students, and many adults, often think of history in exactly those terms. It is critical that Oakland's teachers of history help their students move beyond this narrow, sterile conception. With this goal in mind, and to help assure this broader conception, Oakland's History Standards stress the development of historical thinking as a means to historical understanding.
What is Historical Thinking?
A focus on historical thinking, in conjunction with the required topics of study, is important if students are to successfully inquire into the meaning and significance of historical events and individuals. Historical thinking requires students to go beyond their textbooks so that they may examine, for themselves, traces of history, artifacts, and other primary sources. It is a thoughtful process that requires students to think critically about the meaning and significance of historical evidence. Thus, historical thinking in conjunction with historical content can provide concrete goals for teaching and learning. These achievements have been identified as elements of historical thinking, or historical literacy.
In addition, a focus on historical thinking is essential to helping Oakland teachers work effectively with their diverse student populations. Historical thinking, by its very nature, invites students to cross cultural borders. Working with multiple perspectives, developing historical empathy, and making moral judgments are central to the study of history. For students, learning and thinking about people in the past in this way, rather than just memorizing names and dates, makes history a compelling topic. These practices require students not only to make use of their own personal and cultural knowledge, but also to move beyond their own specific perspectives to consider other points of view. The following two quotes both illustrate and represent this challenge.
The first is from the multicultural educator James Banks, who writes, "The challenge that teachers face is how to make effective instructional use of the personal and cultural knowledge of students while at the same time helping them reach beyond their own cultural boundaries." If we apply this idea to the study of history, it becomes clear that this is a challenge historians undertake as they research, narrate, and interpret the events and people they identify as historically significant.
The second quote, from the historian Lawrence Levine, supports this idea and connects it to the study of history. "We must prepare ourselves for the possibility that these people whose lives we are sharing for the moment are not necessarily earlier versions of ourselves ... To attempt to capture their [his emphasis] way of doing things, their consciousness, their world view, is the stuff of history, the quest that gives historians purpose." ( part 2 )