No Less Than a Matter of Equality

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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Center on History and Education

Teachers College, Columbia University

No Less Than a Matter of Equality

With the award in 2012 of a National Endowment of the Humanities Challenge Grant, the Center on History and Education (CHE) has been working toward ways to reinvigorate how American history is taught on the K-12 level in classrooms in New York City and across the nation.

A growing decline in the teaching of the humanities at all levels of learning underlies this goal, and, more pointedly, the recognition that historical knowledge and insight inform the civic and political challenges of contemporary times. Our goals are ambitious. We are shaping a conversation among teachers, school administrators, and teacher educators about the relationship between history and the well-being of American democracy. We are concerned with how a focus on a dominant Eurocentric narrative leaves many students out of the history that is told and celebrated about America. Conversely, our view is that historical narratives that are inclusive and support the formation of positive cultural identities in students function to empower and engage them in the democratic process. We are exploring instructional strategies that facilitate the ability of learners to think historically and to appreciate how the past is shaped and interpreted.

We began this work in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. Together we convened a think tank at Teachers College on February 19, 2014. We invited classroom teachers, historians, school leaders, and teacher educators to begin a conversation about historical illiteracy and its effect on the democratic process, and to arrive at what constitutes its flip slide, historical literacy. The consensus of the group was that history grounds learners in the democratic process by providing them with the necessary reference points to know what to fight for and defend. Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, former director of the Schomburg Center, captured best where our conversation landed. He clarified the absolute value participants in the think tank placed on the study of history and the vision we articulated going forward by charging that historical literacy was no less than a matter of American equality.

It’s on tape, the starting point for this aspect of CHE’s work. I hope you’ll view the think tank.