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History Blog

Common Core, Common Cause and the Memory Hole
By Ben Walsh
10 Dec
Teachers in England and the rest of the UK are used to being poked, prodded, criticised, over-managed and under-led. It was pretty clear that US teachers are familiar with that experience. In fact the national angst over standards and knowledge etc. seems even more intense in the US. The ‘solution’ is the Common Core, a set of standards designed to turn the nation’s school students into 21st century learners. Of course it’s all very well setting out policies but it’s the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ who have to make them work with real students in real classrooms. In one session I saw John Lee of NCSS and North Carolina State University set out NCSS’s attempt to turn this policy into such a meaningful experience. Those of you interested in comparative curricular development or just wishing to show a bit of solidarity with American colleagues might like to look at NCSS’s College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.
Finally, let me return to the issue of teachers coming under pressure from powerful interests, as it brings me to possibly my favourite session of the whole event. The distinguished historian Fritz Fisher of the University of Northern Colorado and also Chair of the US National Council for History Education gave a fantastic talk about what he calls The Memory Hole (the title of his new book). In essence he was arguing that school history in the US is coming under pressure from people he describes as ‘anti-historians’ a label which I confess spoke to me and which I will duly appropriate. These anti-historians campaign hard for a version of the past to be taught which has no evidential base but serves present day agendas. We saw examples such as George Washington being portrayed as an evangelical Christian; something Fischer believes is simply not true. He pointed out how there has been an attempt to use recent scholarship to show that McCarthy was right about Communist infiltration of the US government in the 1950s. He also made the point that the political Left was as guilty as the political Right in this respect. There was so much in this talk that resonated for me with the recent experience of the Curriculum Review. And the label of anti-historian is one which I suspect will be used a few times more.
So thank you St Louis, and NCSS for a thoroughly stimulating and invigorating experience.
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