During the mid to late twentieth century, our country has found itself in critical situations, and it often asked that the nation’s schools and teachers play a central role in the solution. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite. It was in an elliptical low orbit with four external radio antennas. It was visible all around the earth, and its radio pulses were detectable. I was 8 years-old and I remember how scared the people in our community were. In fact, the entire nation seemed to be gripped in fear.
Consequently, one of the first institutions our nation looked to for a response was our educational system. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (You didn’t know Congress could respond so quickly, did you?). Millions of dollars were directed toward math and science, and many of the grants awarded for more than 40 years were referred to as “Eisenhower Grants”.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was a cornerstone of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. Title I, a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is a program created by the United States Department of Education to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families. Title I was designed to close the skill gap in reading, writing, and mathematics between children from low-income households who attend urban or rural school systems and children from the middle-class who attend suburban school systems. We still trying to close that gap.
In 2001, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under President George W. Bush was known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The goal was to assure that all schools and all students made Adequate Yearly Progress.
Our nation is looking our way again. It desperately needs its schools to lead our people out of civil disintegration and back into a state of civil discourse, which is "a conversation intended to enhance understanding". This task falls squarely in the lap of social studies and history teachers. I am an “old” middle school social studies and high school/community college history teacher. Too often I felt that the social studies and history curricula were the unwanted stepchildren of the total school curriculum. The emphasis was always on math, science, and elementary reading. They have STEM instruction now... they can keep building their robots, while we take on the serious task of healing the nation’s wounds.
I would like to suggest four essential objectives we must meet. First, we must provide opportunities for students to reflect about the formation of their own ideas and values. Second, we must establish a safe space for students to discuss diverse and sensitive viewpoints. Third, as teachers we must model not passive listening but engaged listening for our students. Fourth, teachers must model how to engage in civil discourse with someone who holds opinions and values different from those of the teacher. I do not have the right to level personal attacks against that person on unrelated issues or demonize that person. Don’t worry about the standards. My objectives can find a home under multiple social studies and history standards.
To my fellow social studies and history teachers: This is your hour! We must act faster than Congress in 1958. Step up to the plate. Let’s prepare a new generation to heal the divisive wounds inflicted on our people.
Bless You My Children,
Terry L. Simpson