Who knew that history educators could be put in the unenviable position to fighting to keep a standardized multiple choice test that is inflicted on third graders here in Virginia? For as long as the test’m till they drop mentality has been governing history instruction at the K-12 level, history teachers have been complaining about having to “teach to the test.” The primary complaint, of course, has been that the tests privilege a particular type of history, namely the version that is all about memorizing names and dates.
Three years ago I had some very critical things to say about the Florida legislature’s desire to impose the Sgt. Joe Friday approach to history on the schools in Florida (one of my favorite posts of all time in case you’re keeping track).
Now, though, it seems the worm has turned…Today’s Washington Post reports that some history teachers and/or social studies administrators in Virginia are opposed to the state’s proposal to drop the third grade history test administered state-wide (a “standard of learning” test or, ironically, an SOL). A couple of those quoted in the article worry that if there is no history test for third graders then history will be devalued as a subject in the schools.
As the parent to two school-age children (one of whom took his fourth grade SOL in history this morning), I want to make it very clear that I’m with whoever it is who wants to drop the third grade test. I spend a lot of time working with history teachers at all grade levels in the public schools and my impression is that the vast, vast majority are very committed to the idea that history has a central place in the school curriculum at all grade levels, so I’m not worried that teachers are going to suddenly drop history like a stone just because there isn’t a state wide test.
And I’m equally sure that no school district anywhere in the United States could get away with cutting much more history from the curriculum than has already been cut in the past 20 or 30 years. To do so strikes me as a political third rail.
So I say let the Florida legislators try to transform their state into Belarus. Here in Virginia I say we can live without a history test or two.