History Teaching and the NCHE

Kenneth T. Jackson, November 1998

To the Editor:

The article by Leon Fink in the September, 1998 Perspectives was a salutary and important reminder that there is "cause for concern" about the future of history teaching in the schools. I would like to add, however, that the National Council for History Education has long been active in many of the areas that Professor Fink identifies.

Fink notes that "in a 'post national standards' world ... individual states rush in an often helter-skelter way to create new forms of student and teacher accountability." I would add that for eight years the NCHE has been mobilizing historians, teachers, and public figures in letter-writing campaigns, the preparation of newspaper articles, and various advisory functions within various states to strengthen the requirements for the teaching of history. Its activities on this front in 1998 alone have encompassed more than a dozen states.

His emphasis on the preparation of teachers is, again, central to NCHE's endeavors. The national conference held last October, which resulted in the report Enlarging the Profession: Scholars Teaching History, laid out a series of ideas and recommendations in this vital area, and sowed dozens of what Fink calls "seeds of renewal and expansion of the professional historical community."

As for the "projects of professional or staff development, based on voluntary connections between subject matter teachers and disciplinary scholars" that Fink requests, NCHE has led the way--from History Colloquium programs in teachers' own school districts to month-long summer institutes in research settings such as the JFK Presidential Library. In each setting, NCHE sets up the program under the leadership of a collaborative team, consisting of three equal partners: an academic historian, a master classroom teacher, and a learning specialist from a School of Education. The emphasis is always on content as well as pedagogy.

In addition to its own activities, NCHE was one of the organizers of the much broader Partnership for History Education. This is a collaboration of NCHE, National History Day, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (with the endorsement of four cooperating organizations: AHA's Teaching Division, the OAH, the National History Education Network, and the History Channel) to promote better instruction in history through a wide range of activities, including conferences for elementary school teachers and web sites.

I applaud Fink's call for greater involvement by the profession in the promotion and improvement of history in the schools. But the way to move forward is to recognize and celebrate the efforts of everyone involved in the campaign to restore the teaching of history to its rightful place in America's classrooms.

Information about NCHE initiatives is available in free copies of its monthly newsletter History Matters. The NCHE office in Ohio can be reached at (440) 835-1776; its web site is at http://www.history.org/nche.

—Kenneth T. Jackson
Vice Chair, NCHE