Views of Improving the Preparation of Social Studies and History Teachers: Involving Preservice Teachers with History Museums

Article excerpt

This paper proposes that preservice and inservice teachers be afforded opportunities to acquire skills in teaching social studies through utilization of museum resources. Reform requires collaboration among experts in teacher preparation and museum education and may entail that (a) students in social studies methodologies courses frequently visit a museum and prepare innovative lessons; (b) preservice teachers work as history museum apprentices; (c) teacher educators and museum educators offer workshops in content and pedagogy to prepare teachers to use museum resources.

Important changes in approaches to preparing social studies and history teachers are currently being conceptualized by postsecondary programs in teacher education. Current approaches suggest a more active role for teachers and students in constructing knowledge. Reform is taking place in social studies pedagogy, intent on cultivating content area knowledge in the form of local to global studies of societies, cultures, and history as well as the procedural knowledge involved in "doing history," a catchy phrase that describes the process of understanding the past through active research, critical thinking, and handling artifacts that have survived from the past (Western Reserve Historical Society, 1995; Levstik & Barton, 1997).

This reconceptualization of teachers' and students' roles requires that social studies and history teachers be prepared to teach students by using ideas and methods central to professional pursuits related to social studies and history. Historians view history as dynamic and understand that interpretations of historical knowledge transform, particularly when previously silent voices of history are heard. However, the concept of a dynamically changing interpretation of history, as presented in history museums, is often not familiar to school teachers. History, as taught in schools, is often a static review of textbooks, as opposed to being an interdisciplinary inquiry where historical events are explored for personal and social relevance and where a collaborative construction of the meaning of historical events is brought to light through transactions with historical materials. Teachers and students must ask the fundamental question, "How do we know what we know about the past?" (Noting deficiencies in textbooks, see Ravitch and Finn, 1987.)

Preparation of teachers needs to be undertaken by university faculty in education departments in collaboration with trained professionals in social studies areas, such as demographic researchers and actuaries, geographers and cartogra phers, political analysts, historians, and museum personnel. Teacher preparation programs must emphasize methodologies that teachers may employ to communicate to students that school learning is connected to life beyond school and that learning social studies and history will enable students to acquire cognitive skills that will be needed in adult life to pursue rewarding careers, raise families, and participate in society with a sense of personal and social responsibility. (See Goodlad, 1984; Houston, 1990, Newman and Wehlage, 1995; Tye, 1990.)

This profound curricular and methodological contrast needs to be addressed in the professional development of preservice (undergraduate and graduate students not yet certified to teach) and inservice (certified) teachers. Preparing teachers to teach through inquiry, interaction, utilization of community resources and teacher-developed resources requires collaboration among experts in teacher preparation and practitioners of allied social studies and history professions, particularly museum educators. (See Beninati, 1991; Chancellor, 1989; Chenoweth, 1989; Pahl, 1994; Peters, 1994; Punske, 1992; Robinson, 1991; Schlene, 1992; Shamy, 1991; Siebert, 1989.) Preservice teachers must experience museum learning situations which are similar to those which they are being trained to bring to their students. …