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How Do You Organize a U.S. History Survey Course?

Lendol Calder
History Professor, Augustana College (IL)

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Too often, the organizing question for secondary history instruction is “what does the teacher/ the textbook/the state Board of Education want students to know?” Let’s replace that question with “what is the story of American history?”  Read more »

Fiona Halloran
U.S. History Teacher (Salt Lake City, UT)

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As with most things, teaching US history in high school requires balance. A strict sense of where you’re going and when you’ll get there helps keep the class moving forward. Tempering the rigidity of the course outline with an open-minded approach to assignments allows students to shine and to take risks.  Read more »

Andrew Johnson
Mentor Teacher, Chicago Academy High School

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Instead of teaching the survey chronologically with one eye on thematic relevance, I now teach it thematically with an eye towards chronology. Each quarter of the school year is framed with a guiding question.  Read more »

David Mitchell
High School History Teacher (MA)

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One of the biggest advantages of using original documents is that it throws students into the confusion of the historical moment. When students try to find their way in this new world, inevitably they begin to ask historical questions.  Read more »

William E. White
Vice President Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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When students can make connections on a gut level with distant episodes in our history, they have a genuine stake in our society.They do this by looking at American history as an enduring debate. The debate is about how to balance the values that we as Americans hold most sacred: law and ethics, unity and diversity, private wealth and common wealth, freedom and equality.  Read more »

Valerie Ziegler
High School History Teacher (San Francisco, CA)

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I structure my year long US history course with 3 goals in mind: my students do the work of a historian, they see themselves in the history of this country and they have a desire to learn more.  Read more »

How do you organize your

How do you organize your survey course? What issues and trade-offs do you face and how do you manage them?

The 9th grade curriculum I

The 9th grade curriculum I created for my U.S. history course utilizes a thematic approach. It is based off of a curriculum by Mary Connor. The themes include "The American Character and Belief System," "The Immigration Experience," "20th Century Conflict," and a large theme entitled "The Struggle for Equality." This theme is then divided into smaller themes such as "The Experience of African Americans, "The Experience of Women," "The Experience of Native Americans" and I have included "The Experience of Gay Americans" and "The Experience of People with Disabilities."

Some issues I have come across include: ensuring students retain a sense of chronology, making sure my white students do not feel "guilty," and handling disagreements with parents who feel the curriculum is not a "traditional" U.S. history course.

The biggest concern, by far, is that some parents don't feel that "the Experience of Gay Americans" is appropriate for high school. As a historian, I intend to acknowledge that events surrounding Gay Americans in United States history have happened and they help to inform and provide a context for events that are currently happening. One's personal views on homosexuality are irrelevant; my job as a teacher is to present students with, as Howard Zinn stated, "a marketplace of subjectivities" from which students, using their own value judgements, can then create an informed opinion. This theme does not seek to condemn or condone homosexuality, much like my theme on the "Experience of Women" does not condemn nor condone women. History is a tool for understanding, not for celebrating or vilifying.

From racism and classism, to abortion and war, the Social Studies classroom is more often than not the venue for such controversial dialogue. I work for a STEM School and, while I feel the STEM disciplines prepare students for the world of work, the Humanities prepare students for the world.

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