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From the AHA Activities column in the January 1998 Perspectives

Annual Report of the Teaching Division

Peter N. Stearns, January 1998

The state of the Teaching Division not surprisingly mirrors the state of history teaching in the United States today, embracing solid achievements and exciting new developments and experiencing an array of impediments and threats.

The division continues to appreciate the surge of history-relevant sessions at the annual meetings, some evolving from Teaching Division initiatives, others from initiatives by affiliated societies and other members. This aspect is flourishing. It would be good to regularize Association sessions at other relevant gatherings, such as the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS). Some progress, particularly through the National History Education Network (NHEN), can be reported, but systematic initiatives have not yet been achieved.

Relations with affiliated societies are excellent, which allows collaboration and exchange of information with the Association as fulcrum. The division continues to advocate constructive collaboration with groups as diverse as NCSS and the National Council for History Education, despite some differences in goals or viewpoints.

Existing initiatives for new publications are essentially complete, with forthcoming offerings on teaching future history teachers and training graduate students to teach. The division is now focusing on republication and recombination possibilities, in categories of interest to teachers, particularly drawing from past Perspectives articles with careful editorial selection and new overviews. It is also hoping to develop a series of pamphlets supplementary to textbooks in U.S. and world history for use by high school students; this project depends on a commercial collaboration.

The division is pleased at the reception accorded the statements of criteria for history standards and guidelines for history textbooks, which Council approved. More than 600 Connecticut social studies teachers received copies of the criteria. It is proposed that the textbook standards effort be amplified by textbook prize competitions, a proposal now before Council.

The division continues to emphasize the importance of fruitful, interactive contacts with history teachers at the two-year college and K--12 levels. Existing relationships are welcome, but many more can be achieved over time, including more extensive collaborations and discussions of updating history education. A disappointment remains the lack of serious discussion, under Association sponsorship, of the growing attempt to teach history in the grade schools and middle schools without providing adequate training. There are important opportunities for assessment and for training initiatives. Efforts to improve initial teacher training in history, through discussions with education departments and accrediting agencies, are also desirable, though obviously complex and ambitious.

Evaluations of state history/social studies standards proposals and of NCSS standards models have demanded considerable attention, eased by the issuance of Association- approved criteria. The Association has had an effect on some state efforts, often in collaboration with other groups; but the variety and varying adequacy of statements remain daunting. The standards movement continues to demand watchfulness, but it is now shifting toward implementation and, above all, assessment. The division urges maximum possible involvement, publicity, and collaboration with NHEN, particularly in turning assessment vehicles away from straight factual recall. Opportunities for participation in assessment development may emerge and should be taken seriously.

Relations with the other divisions and standing committees are fruitful. The division is delighted at the prospect of periodic AHR forums discussing research and teaching syntheses, such as U.S. history in a global perspective. Collaboration with the Professional Division highlights mutual interests in defining adequate environments for history teaching, the use of adjuncts, and improvements in graduate training in light of diverse teaching levels and also nonteaching opportunities. The latter is also of special interest to the AHA task force on the role of graduate students.

A number of special projects are still brewing. Discussions about teaching-relevant television production continues, though not swiftly. Proposals for collaboratives around redefinitions of the survey course and for development of a world history CD- ROM remain interesting, depending on funding. The division is proceeding with a first conference on the teaching implications of research on history learning, and hopes that this will blossom into wider initiatives. It also participates in ongoing, interdisciplinary discussions of teaching portfolios funded by the American Association for Higher Education.

The division remains interested in teaching technology, in two senses. It has been active, through Perspectives columns and annual meeting sessions, in discussing the uses of new communications and multimedia technology, and it believes that the discipline must redouble its activities in this area lest opportunities be lost and lest history needlessly appear outmoded (however unfairly). The discipline will suffer if it seems laggard. Indeed, history courses can provide models of how to use, but also to sort through and evaluate, new information sources--an important goal for history and beyond. At the same time and without contradiction, the division hopes to provide leadership in sensible technology use, particularly in advocating that historians have firm pedagogical goals before rushing into technology use and that they insist on serious assessments of experiments in light of these goals.

At the end of an invigorating term of office, I offer two concluding remarks. The Association is a vital force in defining and promoting history teaching, and it deserves membership support and appropriate financing at a challenging point for the discipline. The Association is well served by devoted staff and representatives. It has been my pleasure to work with immensely stimulating and constructive colleagues in the division; I particularly salute Evelyn Hu-DeHart and David Trask, who exit the division with me, as well as Teo Ruiz and Ron Briley, the two members who remain. I can only express my deep gratitude to Sandria Freitag, Sharon Tune, Robert Townsend, Cedra Eaton, and other staff members for their assistance over the past three years. Noralee Frankel, the division's principal staff representative and effective mentor, has been a delight to work with, conscientious and imaginative, devoted to the cause of good history teaching. I leave with regret but with confidence in the principal directions the division is pursuing.

—Peter Stearns (Carnegie Mellon Univ.) is outgoing vice president of the Teaching Division.