Teaching Division 2005

By Patrick Manning

The Teaching Division has existed in its present form since the 1974 reorganization of the AHA. Its task, as defined in the constitution, is to address teaching at all levels of the history profession, especially through statements of policy. In fact, the Teaching Division’s focus has varied as the issues in teaching have changed. For the year 2005, the TD found itself with concerns on quite a variety of issues: graduate-level teaching, high-school teaching as emphasized in the federally-funded Teaching American History program, the teaching of introductory courses at college and high school levels, the undergraduate history major, and the need for public statements of the AHA’s mission.

To articulate the overall teaching mission of the AHA, the Teaching Division completed three concise position papers for circulation to the general public and especially to members and staffers of the U.S. Congress. They were also published as “briefing notes” in Perspectives in March 2006, under the titles, “What Does the Historical Profession Do?” “The Benefits of World History in the Nation’s Schools,” and “Introductory History Courses in U.S. High Schools and Colleges.” R. Bruce Craig, director of the National Coalition for History, provided key support and advice as we prepared these documents. He is circulating these briefing notes among congressional staffers; we will learn with time whether they have been helpful to the understanding of history in Congress, and whether the AHA should prepare additional such notes.

In response to the 2004 report of the Committee on Graduate Education, the AHA began organizing workshops for directors of graduate study. The workshop at the 2005 annual meeting addressed topics from recruitment to record-keeping for an audience of about 30. A day-long summer workshop met in Arlington, Virginia in August 2005, presenting a fuller set of issues to approximately 50 participants.

Also following the recommendation of the Committee on Graduate Education, the Teaching Division worked with the AHA staff, especially Robert Townsend, to create the History Doctoral Programs website, which was released in October 2004. The site has proved to be a big step forward, but it is too soon to congratulate ourselves. A first limitation is that of staff time for the web site, as the small AHA staff is stretched across many important tasks. Second, and more significant, is that the directors of history doctoral programs have often been reluctant to collect and publish detailed information on their PhD programs. That is, existing departmental sites provide information on admission requirements and rules for doctoral programs, but say little about the actual courses, exams, finances and other aspects of the experience of graduate study—information that would be very helpful to applicants seeking to choose an institution. The Teaching Division is left to seek out new ways to improve the doctoral-program web sites of the AHA and of history departments.

Regarding the master’s degree, the Teaching Division met frustration. Despite an excellent study and report by the Committee on the Master’s Degree, with David Trask as committee chair and Philip Katz as staff person, the AHA was not successful in gaining foundation support for a continuation of study in this important area.

At the undergraduate level, based on a multidisciplinary initiative of the American Council of Education (ACE) on “Internationalizing Student Outcomes,” the Teaching Division convened a committee which wrote a remarkably innovative document. The committee of 10, chaired by Dane Kennedy of George Washington University, chose to focus on the U.S. history survey, and to consider ways in which it might be enlivened with thinking across international boundaries. The committee developed a substantial list of thematic issues and questions in U.S. history, thus providing an alternative to conventional structures in U.S. history surveys. This report not only met the needs of participating in the ACE project, but provided new ideas for other work on rethinking history survey courses.

A second undergraduate initiative of the Teaching Division was the revision of a popular but now dated document, “Liberal Learning and the History Major.” This 1990 document, completed as part of a broader project of the Association of American Colleges, has provided history department leaders with a fine statement on the priorities of the undergraduate major. The division turned to Michael Galgano, of the Department of History at James Madison University, to prepare an updated draft. His excellent restatement is now being prepared for publication during the year 2006.

In secondary education, the division considered reports from R. Bruce Craig on historians’ advocacy and the actions of the U.S. Congress. On the positive side, the Teaching American History grant programs (providing roughly $120 million in 2005) in support for professional development of secondary teachers of history, have been funded repeatedly since 2001 despite the other limits on educational funding. On the negative side, the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act are showing to be detrimental to the teaching of history: the focus of NCLB on reading and math has drawn attention away from history and the heavy emphasis on testing means that, even when the history curriculum continues in place, standardized testing puts pressure on teachers to turn toward history as memorizing facts rather than as evaluating complex situations in the past.

These new pressures exacerbate the persistent trend of assigning, to history classrooms in middle and secondary schools, many teachers who lack formal training in any sort of history. As a result the division began work on a position paper on teacher preparation, which is hoped to articulate an AHA position on the minimum preparation required for teachers of history in secondary schools.

The Teaching Division discussed, without being able to initiate action, the assessment of the Teaching American History program. This major program has added resources to teacher preparation for several years. It will surely have a significant impact not only on the teaching of U.S. history but on public education and public perception of history more generally. While there has been administrative oversight and review of individual programs, there is arguably a need to assess the social and intellectual impact of this program. Does it stress local and national aspects of history at the expense of current globalization and past interactions in history? Does its emphasis on citizenship leave adequate space for introducing new results in historical research? I hope that the TD will be able to facilitate a discussion of the implications of this major program.
In this and other work of the Teaching Division in 2005, it has been my pleasure to work with Joan Arno, Kevin Reilly, Emily Sohmer Tai, and Monica Tetzlaff. Our division staff members, AHA Assistant Director Noralee Frankel and administrative assistant Cliff Jacobs, have provided continuity, guidance, subtle corrections, and good sense at every turn.

Patrick Manning (Northeastern University) is vice president of the Teaching Division.