Democracy Denied: Learning to Teach History in Elementary School
Slekar, Timothy D., Teacher Education Quarterly
Although No Child Left Behind (NCLB) appears to disregard the teaching of social studies, it should not be assumed that teaching and learning in these content areas is of little importance. Prior to NCLB, discussions over social studies and history standards dominated the political and cultural landscapes. The eventual conclusion from the federal government was that the social studies devalued American history (Gibson, 1998; Vinson, 1999).
However, the sharp distinctions between those who advocate citizenship education as patriotism indoctrination (Leming, Ellington, & Porter-Magee, 2003; Hirsch, 1987; Ravitch, 1987; Saxe, 2003) and others who see the possibilities a critical approach to teaching history and social studies has for genuine democratic education (Hursh & Seneway, 1998; Ross, 1998; Segall, 1999; Wade, 1999) still exist.
This article documents how one elementary preservice teacher (Amy) learned to teach history from a patriotic indoctrination approach and how powerful and appealing this approach was, considering Amy's limited knowledge of American history. Also, this article demonstrates how this approach essentially denied Amy any opportunity to learn about the richness of social studies content and the possibilities it provides for genuine democratic discourse. The outcome is a narrative portrait of one preservice teacher and a cautious analysis of what the outcomes might mean for teacher education researchers concerned with the future of social studies and its commitment to citizenship education. The findings also suggest that we need a deeper understanding of what really goes on in undergraduate social studies methods courses (Slekar, 2006).
Social Studies Methods Courses and History Teaching
The social studies methods course is typically a standard requirement for preservice teachers in elementary certification programs. Pedagogical understanding of the social studies is a foundational goal of this course (Adler, 1991). However, it is not unusual for social studies methods professors to encounter preservice teachers with a rather negative view of the social studies, history in particular (Slekar, 1998). This early apprehension on the preservice teacher's part presents a rather challenging situation. How can a methods course intellectually influence a preservice teacher to consider teaching history as a form of citizenship education to elementary children?
Todd Dinkelman (1999) found that it was possible to encourage critical reflection (central to democratic ideals) in a social studies methods course, but was a bit cautious because of the effort required by the methods professor to guide quality reflection. In addition, Segall (1999) recommends, that, "history/social studies educators must create a pedagogical environment in which the very foundations of history ... are called into question ..." (p.371). However, how often does critical reflection and the dismantling of status quo history actually occur in social studies methods courses? Not very often according to Marciano (2001), "Influential educators faithfully support a dominant-elite view [of history] that has fostered an uncritical patriotism ... undermining thoughtful and active citizenship in a democracy" (p.537).
Therefore, in what follows, I provide of vivid picture of what happens when the "ignorant activist" (Leming, Ellington, & Porter-Magee, 2003) is absent and how traditional patriotic history is seen as powerful (usually seen as boring) from a naive preservice teacher's point of view.
The following research is drawn from a study that was conducted over the course of an entire year. I use a case study methodology (Stake, 1998) in an attempt to generate a narrative account of a preservice teacher learning to teach traditional American history. The use of more naturalistic inquiry is sometimes more conducive to narrative renderings as pointed out by Lincoln and Guba (1985) and supported by Cornett (1990) and Knowles (1992). However this methodology is not flawless. And generalizations should be approached with caution.
Data generated during the course of this study were semi-structured interviews (with Amy, the methods professor, the field placement teacher, and the host teacher for student teaching), field observations and notes, collected lesson plans, and classroom materials. A constant and comparative methodology was used while the multiple data sources were triangulated for accuracy. The narrative was given to Amy for verification purposes and she agreed that the narrative was accurate.
The Case of Amy
Amy was a 21-year-old student at the time of this study. She attended a small state school in the Northeast. The school was originally designated as a state normal school with a heavy emphasis on preparing teachers. The school is located in a semi-rural area with little ethnic-racial diversity in the school population. Amy was typical among her classmates. Most of her peers were females and between the ages of 20 and 25. She had grown up in the same area and planned to stay in the area to teach upon graduation.
When I first approached Amy, I explained how I was trying to understand how preservice teachers, like her, learn or understand how they will teach history in elementary classrooms. I explained the process I had developed that would help me understand, and also informed her of the critical role she would play in helping me to make sure that what I thought was going on was a fair interpretation of her experiences. I was looking for a purposive sample (Peshkin, 1993). Amy responded agreeably to participating in the study.
Amy's Apprenticeship of Observation
A key starting point in trying to understand how one learns to teach is by assessing the apprenticeship of observation. In Amy's case, how did her apprenticeship of observation help form the views she has about social studies and history teaching? In this section, I lay out the critical pieces of Amy's apprenticeship of observation in social studies and history and her attitudes about her preparation up to this point for teaching history in elementary school.
Teaching and Learning: Making Things Fun and Telling Stories, but More Often Boring
Amy's view of social studies and history teachers was characterized by vivid memories of individual episodes of social studies teaching in which her teachers neglected to highlight the importance of why she was learning the subject. One teacher she remembered was very outgoing and as Amy said, "She would really get into it." However, when Amy continued to reflect on this teacher she remarked, "Now that I think about it, I think she …
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Publication information: Article title: Democracy Denied: Learning to Teach History in Elementary School. Contributors: Slekar, Timothy D. - Author. Journal title: Teacher Education Quarterly. Volume: 36. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2009. Page number: 95. © Caddo Gap Press Winter 2008. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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