History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
They are doing strange things to Colleges of Education in this country, and one of the weirdest is dropping education history courses from required teacher preparation. According to Education Week there is a decline in these classes for teachers.
Why is this troubling? I am not conspiratorial, but wiping out coursework about education’s past frightens me.
P.L. Thomas who is Professor of Education at Furman University, has a post titled “Dismantling an Unstable Discipline: Education without Foundation” which I think sums it up well.
With all the education reforms, shouldn’t it worry us that those who are non-educators, who don’t understand the past, or how children learned yesterday as compared to today, might impose unscrupulous teaching practices on children?
Special Education History
Take special education.
The rich history here includes the creation of laws to protect children. These laws were built on the sad past involving student mistreatment. There were no services for those with moderate to severe difficulties.
Back in the olden days, which were not so long ago, parents could not get the support they needed for their children and were overwhelmed without assistance. Students were often institutionalized in terrible settings.
Should we forget the history of why Public Law 94-142 (which was watered down to IDEA) originated? Should we ignore learning about those who fought hard to improve conditions—people like Samuel Kirk and Burton Blatt to name a few—who brought to light such injustice?
What about mistakes that were made in the history of special education?
Should teachers not learn how Bruno Bettleheim had it all wrong when he promoted the idea of poor parenting as the cause of autism?
Should we not step forward in our understanding of reading disabilities and study dyslexia? Do teachers not need to understand history of reading–including whole language and phonics?
Why did Gallaudet establish a School for the Deaf in Boston?
It is interesting that it is also harder to find special education college coursework. This means it will be less likely for future teachers to come up with better solutions for students with disabilities. It will be easier to get rid of special ed. if you have no prepared teachers and no understanding of the importance of special education.
Early Childhood Education History
If we don’t teach future teachers about the history of teaching young children, they will not be able to separate good and bad practices. They won’t know what children should learn at what age level.
To learn about the rich history of early childhood education, means studying the research of great early childhood educators.
What has been the impact of Reggio Emilia’s approaches to primary education after the destruction caused by the Second World War in northern Italy?
Some education reformers scoff at the likes of Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Many bad practices are implemented in early childhood education because past research is ignored i.e., loss of recess, high-stakes testing, less play, and a push to read too early.
Tolerance and Education History
Should we forget the civil rights struggle as it pertains to schools? Has Brown v. Board of Education become a simple footnote to an unused textbook?
As noted also in Education Week, we recently watched the State of Washington halt charter schools because the Washington Supreme Court Justices looked back at a 1909 state high court ruling concerning common schools (not to be confused with Common Core). Real concerns are rising about segregation and charter schools. So YES! History does matter!
What was schooling like when America became a country? What were the social, political and economic trends? How did religion fit into the scheme of things? How did world events affect what was taught to students throughout the years?
Not only should we be looking at U.S. History of Education. In a world where leaders stress global initiatives, we should also understand the history of schooling in other countries. What are the struggles and the successes we can learn from? How can we better work with each other?
Every decade since this nation’s start includes educational information important to know. Shouldn’t we try to understand the thoughts and ideas of great philosophers on how schools are designed and managed?
Even if there are disagreements over how children learn, if no history is taught, there will be no debates!
I am convinced that removing History of Education from a future teacher’s repertoire is a huge insult not just to teachers, but to the American people. It is saying that we are not bright enough to handle history—that we can’t learn from it.
Instead, by disregarding history of education in our universities, we will be at the mercy of those who write their own agenda for us to follow when it comes to education and teaching of children.