Histories of Social Studies and Race: 1865-2000
reviewed by Renay M. Scott - May 29, 2014
Title: Histories of Social Studies and Race: 1865-2000
Author(s): Christine Woyshner & Chara Haeussler Bohan (eds.)
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137007540, Pages: 231, Year: 2012
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In what is an ambitious undertaking, Christine Woyshiner and Chara Haeussler Bohan engage authors in the goal of examining how the social studies curriculum in the late 19th century through the 20th century presented race to both black and white students in select areas of the United States. The result of this highly ambitious, but valuable examination is a framework from which future research pertaining to race in social studies can be conducted.
Eleven authors were asked to examine race and social studies in any time or region of their choosing. The seemingly random approach resulted in a coherent presentation of the treatment of African Americans within the social studies curriculum during segregation and desegregation. This examination placed heavy emphasis on race as represented by the African American culture, lightly touching on Native American culture. An important question raised, but not consistently explored through the work, was whether or not the social studies curriculum had an impact on peoples future decision to conform or challenge societal norms with respect to the place of African Americans within society.
One of the most interesting discussions within the book pertained to the evolution of Black History Month from the beginnings of Negro History Week. Contrasting this discussion of Black History Month is an illuminating examination of race as represented in geography books in South Carolina between 1890 and 1927. This objective portrayal of the treatment of race stands in stark contrast to the goals of Negro History Week and the efforts of Carter G. Woodson who first developed the idea of Negro History Week in 1926. The examination of race as portrayed within South Carolina geography books reveals many stereotypical images and descriptions that create a misleading sense of race. It was this type of curriculum that Carter Woodson wanted to counteract, leading him to conclude that Black History Week served four important goals. Those goals included ensuring African Americans understood their history as a means of survival, correcting the severely distorted historical record, presenting a balance in the curriculum between ignoring black history and disproportionally highlighting black achievements and finally, creating a better understanding of black history in order to counteract the harm of negative racial stereotyping.
Other examinations of how race intersected with the social studies curriculum resulted in case studies of best practices. These valuable case studies occur throughout various regions in the United States and still have value for social studies educators today looking for curriculum and pedagogy that enhances the social studies knowledge of contemporary students. One of the first case studies involves the discussion of a model student senate at Shortridge High School between 1900 and 1928. The model Senate was the work of social studies educator Laura Donnan and provided the students a forum for discussions on racial belonging and the notion of nationalities. The student senate was important for allowing students the space to discuss values surrounding citizenship. The chapter serves as a reminder of the importance of authentic discussions around social studies principles such as citizenship and nationality.
A second case study of note is the chapter on the social studies curriculum and pedagogy in the Atlanta Public Schools during desegregation in the 1970s. This examination emphasized the value of MACO (Man: A Course of Study) with the emphasis on inquiry-based pedagogy. Further, the Atlanta Public Schools at the time utilized a non-Western curriculum that emphasized real world learning opportunities. This culturally relevant curriculum engaged students with meaningful content. The chapter serves as a reminder of the value of culturally relevant curriculum and inquiry-based pedagogy.
The most recent case study involved McDonogh #35 in New Orleans between 1980 and 2000. This case study highlighted successful social studies curriculum in pedagogy during the Standards Based Reform movement that emphasizes prescriptive curriculum guides and high stakes testing. This case study demonstrates that high achievement can result from culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy. The author of this case study demonstrates that McDonogh # 35 utilized a college prep curriculum that emphasized community service and student leadership as a means of creating meaningful learning experiences. Further, the curriculum placed an emphasis on social justice. Another feature of the curriculum that reinforced high expectations was the elimination of vocational training in favor of a gifted curriculum. Further McDonogh # 35 utilized social studies based extracurricular activities as a tool of engagement. The author also mentions that many faculty within the school hold advanced degrees. The chapter concludes that students within McDonogh #35 continue to achieve at high levels due to the culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy. The chapter serves as a reminder of the value of authentic learning, service learning and social justice in the social studies.
From these chapters emerge relevant themes pertaining to the intersection of social studies and race. First, the importance of culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy is vital for ensuring an accurate portrayal of race within the social studies. Second, student engagement is vital for reinforcing relevant social studies principles. Third, high expectations and authentic learning experiences are necessary for making social studies meaningful to students. Last, woven within each of the first three principles is the need to ensure an accurate portrayal of race and culture that seeks to illuminate the accomplishments and achievements of the culture rather than marginalize or make invisible the culture.