Friday, July 10, 2009

You Can't Cover Everything

There is a story in Education Week about the committee that is determining the history standards to be taught in Texas over the next 10 years. A couple of the committee members have recommended that less time be devoted to discussing historical figures like Chavez and Marshall. They suggest that historically these men aren't as important as founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin.

My initial response is to jump on a soap box and talk about the relevance of Marshall and Chavez to not only African American and Latino history, but to more general political history of the 1960s and 1970s. But if I take a step back and look at my own syllabus, well I need to be a bit more forgiving. Because let's face it, you can't cover everything. I think I mention Marshall during one paragraph of one lecture when I talk about the Civil Rights Movement and Chavez never comes up at all. Is this because I don't think they are important? Absolutely not. I do think they are important - but I'd rather talk more about the movements they led/worked in - then about the individuals. Indeed, I think Ben Franklin only gets a paragraph or two, as well, in spite of the fact that I spend several days talking about the American Revolution.

In part, I think my approach is inspired by what I expect teaching history to demonstrate. What I want to show is NOT hey look at these great men and what they were able to do, but rather hey look at these fundamental changes that occurred in our political and social system and the role that activists played in accomplishing them.