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Good Models of Collaboration

For more than a hundred years historians, teachers and the public have been fussing about the sad state of history knowledge among the nation’s high school and college students. Yet despite various reform efforts in nearly every decade of the 20th century, complaints about the lack of a history curriculum that will actively engage students’ attention persist. And, for their part, history departments are regularly blamed for not taking on a greater role in the training of history teachers. Has anything changed? Will it?

There is certainly some truth to the charge that history departments have neglected opportunities to educate and train the students who will be the nation’s history teachers, although there have always been some that took this responsibility seriously. More, though, have not reached out to schools of education and instead have complained about the quality of students these schools attract. But have they offered students wishing to enter the teaching profession a rigorous alternative?

Recently, the Teaching American History grants have nudged hundreds of history departments around the country to connect with local school districts and nearby schools of education to become productively engaged with the preparation of K–12 teachers. As a result, we now have many good models of such collaboration and more should follow. Preparation of future history teachers should include the opportunity for students to gain rigorous instruction in historical content, to apply different historical tools and methods in historical research, and to become familiar with new understandings of history teaching and learning. Otherwise history education at all levels is compromised.

Good models for undergraduate training of future teachers address one need. Recent studies show, however, that many teachers already in history classrooms lack appropriate training. Graduate education also has a role to play here, since many school districts strongly encourage teachers to pursue advanced degrees. One healthy trend is that a growing number of departments have begun to build into their participation in TAH grants the opportunity for teachers to earn credit towards a master’s degree. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if all history teachers aspired to a master’s degree in the field?

Finally, history departments might do well to remember that higher education’s many publics still care about history. With a culture of assessment and accountability taking hold in the nation’s colleges and universities, and in a time of scarce resources nationwide, history departments’ position in general undergraduate education as well as graduate and professional training can only be strengthened by taking greater responsibility for producing the next generation of history teachers.