Situating History So It Counts: Learning from Education History's Shift toward Marginalization in U.S. Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the 1970s, education scholars were compelled to argue education history's virtues to the teacher education enterprise, asserting for example that teachers should play important roles in the formation of education policy and so need to be informed about education history (See Birkel, 1972; Travers, 1973). Although these scholars were responding to history's diminishing status in teacher education, as they perceived it in the 1970s, a shift had begun much earlier.

Interestingly, an examination of the teacher education past demonstrates that history once occupied not only a valued position in teacher education but was, at its inception, the core of the curriculum. However, it's standing began to wane in the first quarter of the twentieth century. To bring to light this pertinent story, in this paper I outline a historical trajectory of education history's movement from a central position to a peripheral one, from the late 1800s to the present. The twentieth century also witnessed a gradual shift away from discipline-based teacher education in general. But this shift did not displace philosophy and sociology in the same way it did history. This review will help explain decisions among foundations scholars since the late 1970s to move toward more integrated foundations courses--courses that have a tendency to shortchange historical study. Why did history gradually move from a central role to a peripheral one, from a subject once believed to be axial to teacher knowledge to one viewed as nonessential? What might be the implications for such a shift? How can we better understand, and hopefully improve, current teacher education practice by being informed about the changing position of history over time?

The marginalization of educational history is of great concern because a historical perspective on education can be a critical component of a teacher's knowledge base. (1) My experience as a teacher and teacher educator has allowed me to observe firsthand the ways in which pre-service and in-service teachers are limited by their lack of sufficient knowledge of the education past. While interacting with and observing many students, I have been struck by their lack of understanding of the social, economic, political, and historical features that make U.S. schooling complex and in many ways unique.

The students I work with were exposed neither to major figures nor to the study of pivotal movements that shaped the public schools as they are today. For example, they do not know that schools did not exist for all young people at the beginning of this nation's history and that school history includes stories of struggle over access for girls and certain ethnic and racial groups (Ravitch, 1974; Fass, 1989). They do not know that the public schools have always been scrutinized, since before Joseph Mayer Rice's popular 1892-1893 study in which he criticized pedagogical practice in late nineteenth century American schools; thus, A Nation at Risk (1984) is part of a long tradition of attacks on U.S. public schools (Rice, 1893). They do not know that the alternative school movement that solidified in the early 1980s in New York City and elsewhere is influenced by work done at the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago in the 1890s.

Historical study can contribute significantly to teachers' knowledge. First, in-depth study of history can provide an understanding of the problem-solving strategies, analytical skills, and habits of thought that historians employ. Second, historical study can foster professional identity and solidify teacher communities by providing teachers with common narratives and reference points. And third, historical study can contribute to a satisfaction of understanding that can also support a professional identity (Murrow, 2004). Thus, study of history can give teachers an improved capacity for citizenship in a society of educators, strengthening their ability to have critical perspectives on the relationships between schooling and society. …