Friday, June 10, 2005

Bold cultural move for city schools

In a move that will make it unique among the nation's school systems, Philadelphia has announced plans to include a course on African and African-American history among its requirements for graduation.
Yesterday, district officials confirmed that they would mandate a combined African and African American history course in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds African American. The course becomes one of four required social-studies courses, just as important as American history, geography and world history.
This is apparently a very belated response to a school board mandate from 1968. Of course, the decision has met with a wide range of reactions, including concerns by other minority groups that their own stories will become even more overlooked. However, for the time being, their numbers don't carry enough clout.
"I guess the ideal I would love to see is a rich, diverse, textural and contextual history of all those who make up the fabric of America," Nevels said. "Short of that, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Some of the debate is summarized in a second article here. Only time will tell how successful the courses are, and whether they serve more to unite or divide the student bodies.

I honestly don't know what to make of this. It's a bold move. Obviously, anything that makes students feel like they have more of a personal stake in their school experience is good, but this can only be a slice of the pie. It might be more effective to combine the African/slave/civil-rights portion into one solid semester course, and then have a second semester which compares the black experience in America to the stories of other immigrants -- say, Indians and Pakistanis who came during partition, or Europeans escaping wars or famines, or Latin Americans hoping for a better life. Such courses are quite difficult to plan and execute, but could lead to fascinating discussions and a wealth of additional understanding.

But maybe these sorts of discussions are just what could happen when students study national (or world) history and then study the African-American experience -- what do the other students know of their parents' or grandparents' lives and choices? History classes so often stop long before anybody we know was even born; looking at periods closer to our own and thinking about these kinds of questions could bring the whole educational experience to life . . .


Anonymous Tulin said...

The debate on both sides is interesting, but what it doesn't address is the fact that students at some schools - for example, Central and Masterman - will no longer have as much room in their schedule for AP classes.

The three year history requirement versus the new four year history requirement gave the students an extra year (an elective space) to take another class - be it a European History AP class or another AP class.

AP classes are one of the things considered in rankings of schools - and the numbers of students taking such classes at those schools has been good PR for the District.

I don't believe that there is an AP African American history class - perhaps that should be addressed on a higher level by the college board in Princeton.

With the District and the nation so concerned about raising educational standards, this could be a blow to those students who decide to go above and beyond what's required, making it harder for them to take advanced classes.
On a sidenote, I think if anything, this requirement will only polarize the students more. I like your suggestion of having a split semester course where one half is dedicated to the immigrant experience and the other half is dedicated to the African American experience.
On another sidenote, the debate doesn't address the teacher problem in the District and how this will impact it. Will they be able to provide quality teacher hires or will they overwork current teachers?

5:01 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

I don't see how this competes with AP's. Where I went to school, you could take regular physics, or AP; regular American history, or AP; you either ended up in calculus (AP) or you were on a slower math track. Electives (such as psychology or other less common courses) are something entirely different from courses on different tracks of difficulty. If your AP's are a second year of a class (i.e., chemistry), then you might be limited, but I can't imagine one more requirement would proclude the top students from packing their schedules...

11:06 AM  

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