In the News
Boston Public Schools:
False Alarm and Template for Action
Late last month the historical community was set ablaze with rumors that Boston Public Schools (BPS) had eliminated its History and Social Studies Department, firing teachers and subordinating the discipline to English Language Arts. The story quickly generated a change.org petition titled “Keep History and Social Studies in the Boston Public Schools” (since removed), and an H-Net article titled “Boston Public Schools to Eliminate History and Social Science Departments”.
This firestorm was triggered by a reorganization of the BPS central office that placed the History and Social Studies Department within a Humanities structure along with English Language Arts (ELA) and World Languages programs. The hiring of a History and Social Studies program head at the assistant director level contributed further to the sense that the program would be subordinated to ELA. An initial attempt by Interim Superintendent John McDonough to soothe the various concerned parties had the opposite effect. Mr. McDonough’s released a statement (since removed) that “…we will continue to increase the use of History and Social Studies texts used during English Language Arts instruction in order to increase the teaching of History and Social Studies content in all grades….” left the impression that he was operating from a very narrow view of what constitutes history. If history is nothing more than “content” – a mere fact-based story – then why couldn’t it be taught in ELA classes using “History and Social Studies texts”?
Requests from NCHE and other entities for further clarification produced a second statement from Mr. McDonough asserting, “History and Social Studies teachers will continue to teach History and Social Studies in our schools.... [and] English teachers are not being asked to take over the teaching of History and Social Studies.” In addition, he noted, “The History and Social Studies Department is not being eliminated or folded into English Language Arts.”
NCHE took an active role in working as a member organization of the National Coalition for History to craft a statement seeking details of the BPS reorganization (here). In a subsequent conversation with BPS officials as they prepared a response to the letter from the Coalition (here), NCHE also helped them to better understand the historical community’s underlying concerns. BPS representatives assured NCHE that they recognize the value of history and social studies education and that the reorganization of History and Social Studies, ELA and World Languages under a Humanities umbrella will increase access to cross-curricular materials. NCHE stressed that it is essential that these materials are properly contextualized and that discipline-based experts are employed to teach with them. BPS officials expressed agreement, and those who value history can count that as a victory. However, this does not diminish the need for NCHE to remain vocal and vigilant. For a discussion of how we propose to do so, please read “Eyes and Ears” elsewhere in this issue.