Archaeology Education and the Political Landscape of American Schools

By Davis, M. Elaine | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Archaeology Education and the Political Landscape of American Schools

Davis, M. Elaine, Antiquity

Key-words: pre-college, schools, USA, public education


Education, a primary mode for transmitting society's knowledge, values and beliefs, is a highly political endeavour. To understand fully the place of archaeology within the framework of public education in the United States, some background in the broader political landscape and sanctioned curricula in American schools is necessary. This article examines some key aspects of these issues, including governmental control of education, the `history of history' in schools, and the appropriation of the past. It also looks at the status of archaeology education in the United States and considers an appropriate role for pre-college archaeology.

History, power and public education

History education in the United States is primarily the study of the written past. Defining history in such a narrow way has important consequences; authorship of the past is severely restricted, and the history of certain groups is Legitimized while others are devalued. Archaeology at the pre-college level (grades K-12, ages 5-18) exists only on the periphery of the written past. The people occupying the Americas for thousands of years before Columbus arrived get scant coverage in the first few pages of history textbooks, and thereafter appear only in relation to the history of the dominant culture. Reliance on written sources exclude perspectives from those who have traditionally been denied equal access to literacy skills, including ethnic minorities, women, and the working class.

The difficulty of identifying a place for archaeology in public education at the pre-college level is also tied to the uncomfortable position history holds within the broader curriculum. History as a school subject in the United States is generally unpopular, particularly with students (Lowen 1995). The reasons for history's low status are complex. It is first important to understand that history enters the pre-college classroom in two different ways: through standard history courses and through social studies (officially admitted to the curriculum in 1916 as an integrated study of social sciences and humanities). From the start there was a split between advocates of social studies and `traditional' historians, relating to a larger ideological rift over the purpose of schooling: to create self-actualising individuals or fulfil the needs of society? Members of the American Historical Association (AHA) argued for history instruction requiring students to examine original documents, consider diverse viewpoints and seek the causes leading to historical events within the social framework: in essence, to think like historians. In contrast, social studies was devised primarily to promote civic competence and meet the needs of society through education. History, within this framework, was not to be focused on the past. or social dynamics, but used to shape the future (Ravitch 1988). Such a difference in perception led to a divide between scholarly academic history and school history which exists to the present; the withdrawal of academic historians from K-12 has affected the way standard history courses are taught, as well as the history that is taught in the context of social studies.

Since the creation of social studies, both it and history have undergone alterations in content and pedagogy, and the importance placed on different school subjects has also changed. These changes not only reflect differing values and needs of society over time, but also link directly to the economy, and the needs of corporate America. Reading, writing and spelling are always important as building blocks of literacy and essential for entry into the job market. Beyond these basic literary skills, the value placed on different school subjects varies: at present, science, mathematics and technology are the focus of attention. History received greater prominence earlier in the century when America was involved in two world wars, but it was a history tailored to promote patriotism and national identity.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Archaeology Education and the Political Landscape of American Schools


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?