Teaching Division 2006

The scope of the Teaching Division is immense: it is to address the teaching of history from elementary and secondary to the full range of collegiate institutions, including advanced study. The division is to pay particular attention to the preparing of teachers at all levels, but also to consider the presentation of history in public arenas outside the schools. The division’s actual responsibilities are far more limited: the Teaching Division is to articulate positions of the AHA on educational policy, and it is to take action within the AHA at annual meetings and in other programs.

The division directs its policy statements toward a variety of audiences. Within the past three years we have addressed graduate-school teachers (on doctoral and Master’s programs), undergraduate teachers (in updating the statement on liberal learning), and secondary and middle-school teachers (on the Teaching American History program). We addressed the AHA Council with recommendations on teaching matters. We have spoken to educational interest groups (such as the American Council for Education). We have addressed legislators and legislative staff (with position papers on the history profession and introductory history courses). And we continue to engage with teacher-training institutions and the employers of teachers with recommended standards for the preparation of teachers.

The Teaching Division must choose its issues with care, since its personnel is limited to five members drawn from various corners of the profession. Like other divisions of the AHA, the TD is led by elected members serving overlapping three-year terms, backed by AHA’s slim but impressive staff. Staff members balance their administrative and coaching responsibilities, sustain institutional memory, provide direction, and thereby enable the elected leadership to identify priorities and actually take leadership. The result is a remarkable structure.

My colleagues on the division have made interventions of lasting value. Kevin Reilly has focused attention on the introductory history course. Emily Sohmer Tai has written incisively on assessment in history. Monica Tetzlaff and Allison Ivey have taken on the task of proposing minimum standards for preparation of elementary and secondary teachers of history.

When I was a candidate for election to this office, I identified two issues as priorities for my term: implementing recommendations for upgrading graduate education and critical scrutiny of the federal Teaching American History program. While some progress has resulted in each area, I find that there is no reason for self-satisfaction and every reason to press for continued attention to these issues.

The Committee on Graduate Education and the publication of its report (The Education of Historians for the Twenty-First Century) in 2004 had an immense effect for a short time. One result was greater attention to the role of departmental Directors of Graduate Study (now supported by AHA’s annual workshops and an electronic discussion group). The current AHA web site on doctoral programs, a major step forward for the field of history, nevertheless owes almost everything to the work of AHA staff and officers and very little to the doctoral departments, whose websites have advanced little and whose curricula have advanced little more. History remains in competition with other fields for funding and for students—I fear that we risk losing strong candidates for doctoral work to other fields if we are not more aggressive in sharpening graduate training and more forthcoming in revealing the actual details of graduate study to candidates for admission. Of equal concern is the languishing report of the Committee on the Master’s Degree, prepared by Phil Katz. This brilliant report revealed the intricacy and the importance of Master’s programs, but funding agencies abandoned the project. The AHA, lacking support from other agencies, should find a way to sustain discussion on Master’s programs, for instance by facilitating exchange among faculty members—notably those in teacher preparation.

More than any previous federal program, the Teaching American History program has poured millions of dollars into professional development of history teachers. While gratitude for the money and celebration of outstanding projects are quite in order, historians in this era of accountability should turn their critical eye on the project. What difference has this expenditure made to the quality of teaching, to the understanding of U.S. history, and to the understanding of the world our students live in? We can expect no further such allocations unless historians can demonstrate that past expenditures have been truly productive. The AHA can neither fund nor conduct such an evaluation, but can remind historians that advocacy of the cause of history also requires critical assessment of the conditions, standards, and performance of our work.

I salute my colleagues on the Teaching Division for their devotion and imagination. I express my deep appreciation to Noralee Frankel and Cliff Jacobs for their caring and skillful facilitation of division’s tasks, and my admiration of Arnita Jones for her modeling of professional leadership. Finally, I am grateful to have been able to participate for three years in the deliberations of the AHA Council, an extraordinary institution that, twice a year, transforms well-qualified individual historians into a profoundly insightful voice of the historical profession.

Patrick Manning (Northeastern University) was vice president of the Teaching Division, 2005–07.