Executive Director’s Message

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

Anyone interested in preserving our past will surely want to review the standards for teaching history proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Under state law, PDE must adopt standards offering guidance to school districts on what students should know in various disciplines. The standards for history, available on PDE’s Web site, include sections on world, national, and state history. An introductory standard on the discipline of history itself describes how teachers and students should use source materials, as well as the ways in which they can develop interpretations of written, physical, and oral evidence in reconstructing historical narratives.

Before evaluating these standards for history, we need to understand that they are educational objectives rather than curriculum outlines. Therefore, the draft standards for history contain broad statements covering large blocks of time. For example, one standard for high school students requires the “knowledge and skills needed to synthesize the interaction of cultural, economic, geographical, political, and social relations … from 1890 to 1941.” To meet this objective, a list of significant individuals, writings, historic sites, and works of art are listed as examples for students to identify. The standard also includes events in transportation (the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for example), social history (such as immigration and labor relations), and industry (the growth of steel, coal, oil, aluminum, and glass) to illustrate “continuity and change” and “conflict and cooperation.” These identifications or “descriptors” are not intended to be comprehensive but merely illustrative of the kind of information students should know in order to meet the standard.

Historians and educators can vigorous­ly debate which themes in state history are most significant. We can also argue about the best ways to teach history. Happily, there is no disagreement about the value of teaching state history in our schools. Understanding the development of the political institutions, economic contribu­tions, and cultural traditions is of critical importance at a time of renewed appreciation for the distinct roles that states have played in our national experience. The fact that each state over time has developed different ways to deal with utility regulation, public welfare, environmental protection, election procedures, and educational curricu­lum indicates just how vital and dynamic the study of state history can be.

The adoption of the Pennsylvania history standards should be a catalyst to promote innovative approaches to teaching state history. I hope that muse­ums and historic sites are regarded as resources to help teachers meet this goal. I have confidence that teachers are capable of making history exciting for their students, especially if we provide the proper support and materials they need. Once the standards are approved, we need to promote active partnerships between schools and historical organizations to make Pennsylvania history come to life!

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director