The California State Board of Education has worked hard with the Academic Standards Commission to develop history-social science standards that reflect California's commitment to history-social science education. These standards emphasize historical narrative, highlight the roles of significant individuals throughout history, and convey the rights and obligations of citizenship.
In that spirit the standards proceed chronologically and call attention to the story of America as a noble experiment in a constitutional republic. They recognize that America's ongoing struggle to realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is the struggle to maintain our beautifully complex national heritage of e pluribus unum. While the standards emphasize Western civilizations as the source of American political institutions, laws, and ideology, they also expect students to analyze the changing political relationships within and among other countries and regions of the world, both throughout history and within the context of contemporary global interdependence.
The standards serve as the basis for statewide assessments, curriculum frameworks, and instructional materials, but methods of instructional delivery remain the responsibility of local educators.
Development of the Standards
The recommended history-social science standards build on the work of exemplary documents from both within and outside California, most notably the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, a document strengthened by the consensus that elicited it and nationally recognized for its emphasis on historical events presented within a chronological and geographic context.
The standards reflect guidance and input from countless members of the California teaching community and other citizens who attended the meetings of the State Board and Standards Commission. Their input contributed substantively to the discussions and the drafts, as did the input gathered from the nine directed community input meetings hosted by the Standards Commission throughout the state in January 1998 and from the five field hearings held by the State Board throughout the state in August 1998. At those forums, parents, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders helped define key issues. Current practice and the state of history-social science instruction in California were also given special consideration during the process. In addition, history-social science experts from around the nation reviewed and submitted formal comments on the first and second drafts. The more than 70 reviewers included eminent historians, geographers, economists, and political scientists. Their input helped immeasurably to strengthen the rigor and quality of the standards.
Highlights of the Standards
With the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools as a guide to the eras and civilizations to study, these standards require students not only to acquire core knowledge in history and social science, but also to develop the critical thinking skills that historians and social scientists employ to study the past and its relationship to the present. It is possible to spend a lifetime studying history and not learn about every significant historical event; no one can know everything. However, the State Board hopes that during their years of formal schooling, students will learn to distinguish the important from the unimportant, to recognize vital connections between the present and the past, and to appreciate universal historical themes and dilemmas.
Throughout this document, the use of biographies, original documents, diaries, letters, legends, speeches, and other narrative artifacts from our past is encouraged to foster students' understanding of historical events by revealing the ideas, values, fears, and dreams of the people associated with them. Found in archives, museums, historical sites, and libraries across California, these original materials are indispensable resources. The State Board hopes schools will take advantage of these repositories and encourage students' direct contact with history. The standards also emphasize the importance of enriching the study of history through the use of literature, both from and about the period being studied.
Mastery of these standards will ensure that students not only know the facts, but also understand common and complex themes throughout history, making connections among their own lives, the lives of the people who came before them, and the lives of those to come. The statements at the beginning of each grade provide a brief overview of the greater story under study. The overarching statements in each grade and their substatements function as conceptual units: the numbered items under each overarching standard delineate aspects of the bigger concept that students are expected to master. In this way, teachers and assessors can focus on the concept without neglecting the essential components of each.
The standards include many exemplary lists of historical figures that could be studied. These examples are illustrative. They do not suggest that all of the figures mentioned are required for study, nor do they exclude the study of additional figures that may be relevant to the standards.
The standards do not exist in isolation. The History-Social Science Framework will be revised to align with the standards, and it will include suggested ways to relate the standards' substance to students, ways to make connections within and across grades, and detailed guidance for day-to-day instruction and lesson plans. Teachers should use these documents together.
Knowledge and skills increase in complexity in a systematic fashion from kindergarten through grade twelve, although no standards exist for grade nine in deference to current California practice in which grade nine is the year students traditionally choose a history-social science elective. However, in the coming years, the State Board intends to review this current practice.
In kindergarten through grade three, students are introduced to the basic concepts of each discipline: history, geography, civics, and economics. Beginning at grade four, the disciplines are woven together within the standards at each grade.
The critical thinking skills that support the study of history-social science are outlined in the sections for grades five, eight, and ten. To approach subject matter as historians, geographers, economists, and political scientists, students are expected to employ these skills as they master the content.
While the State Board recognizes that it will take both time and changes in policies for schools, teachers, and students to meet these standards, we believe it can and must be done. When students master the content and develop the skills contained in these standards, they will be well equipped for the twenty-first century.