Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

The beginning of the school year is a good time to assess the status of the teaching of history in Pennsylvania. If asked to grade our efforts, I doubt I would give any higher than a “Gentleman’s C.” While debate on the subject is cer­tainly not new, a recent report by the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Education (PDE) offers a new analysis of specific is­sues and makes some helpful recommendations. PDE’s Commission on Teaching His­tory, Civics and Human Values concluded that “we in Penn­sylvania are still struggling to effect a system of public edu­cation adequate to the de­mands of democracy and a changing world. We need citizens today who not only understand their own history and the workings of govern­ment, but how our nation and this state … are a mirror of the modern world.”

The Commission identifies several areas of concern. I find myself in agreement with most of its findings. Efforts to con­centrate on teaching history are comprised by the compet­ing claims of other social sci­ence disciplines. Developing a critical perspective in the class­room or introducing provoca­tive historical subjects is challenged by various interest groups with moral, political or cultural agendas. Teachers rarely have the time or oppor­tunity to become acquainted with new interpretations or even to develop sufficient mastery of their subjects.

Fortunately, my work with the Commission on Teaching History allowed me to confirm a basic assumption: museums and historical societies throughout Pennsylvania are playing a vital role in teaching history at all levels. Many of these organizations have con­tractural arrangements with school districts to provide museum educators. Several societies publish books and magazines for use in the schools. Many conduct local history and architectural his­tory tours for teachers and students, as well as offer in­service workshops for instruc­tors. The quality of the services offered by the mu­seum and local history educa­tors, the innovative formats they have developed, and the educational leadership they have provided are truly impressive!

I am pleased that our agency is active in teaching history to our young scholars. Programs at the Somerset Historical Center, Landis Valley Museum and Ephrata Cloister are specifically de­signed in cooperation with local school teachers. Living history demonstrations at Cornwall Iron Furnace, Penns­bury Manor and Eckley Min­ers’ Village are among several offered at PHMC historic sites and museums that encourage both students and teachers to exercise their imaginations and develop new perspectives on the past. The State Museum of Pennsylvania offers an ambi­tious school tour program for more than thirty thousand students each year, while the statewide observance of His­tory Day continues to grow in popularity.

Readers of Pennsylvania Heritage have a definite stake in the outcome of debates over the value of teaching history, and the report of the Commis­sion on Teaching History, Civics and Human Values is a good source for understanding the issues and problems that we face. Implementation of these findings and recommen­dations of this report will not happen unless there is a co­gent, informed response taken by the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Education. For those who share my concerns, a complimentary copy of the report will be made available by the PHMC upon request.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director