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Proposal for a World History charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota state law allows charter schools to be established as an alternative to schools in the public-school system. Once these schools are chartered by the state Department of Education, they become eligible to receive the same per-capita aid from the state as public schools. They also receive a transportation allowance. The state also provides start-up aid to new schools. However, the entire operation, including administration and special-education expenses, must be funded from those sources. There is great financial pressure upon charter schools. Most fail for that reason.
In February 2002, the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota announced that it had received $1.25 million from the Gates Foundation to fund the creation of five new charter schools in St. Paul, Minnesota. Foundation officials believed that students could learn more effectively in small schools than in large schools. The Center for School Change invited interested persons to submit proposals to start a charter school to a committee which would evaluate the proposals according to certain criteria. The committee would then award a grant of $250,000 each to the five winners.
The criteria gave preference to charter-school proposals that showed strong community support and access to experienced teachers. The proposals had to state clearly how its particular approach would support an educational program that could meet state standards for student achievement. Each proposal had to specify what facility would house the school. Each needed an official sponsor. The process of developing proposals required much consultation with experts in the educational field.
William McGaughey, who had no teaching experience, decided to submit a proposal for a World History charter school in St. Paul. David Kopf, a recently retired professor of history at the University of Minnesota, agreed to serve on the organizing committee. Another member of the committee was Mark Welter, who had taught world-history courses in high school and, more recently, at St. Cloud State University. Mark Stanley, a computer guru, also joined the committee, as did several others.
McGaughey spent several months putting the proposal together. It soon became clear that this was a monumental task. In retrospect, the group faced an enormous hurdle in curriculum development. In addition to applying for the charter, finding a location for the school, hiring teachers, and other administrative tasks, it would have to create the highly original curriculum from scratch.
The world-history teaching was to be based on concepts in William McGaughey's book Five Epochs of Civilization and on David Kopf's book Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia, also bringing in materials related to "Big History", a concept championed by Mark Welter. The challenge would be to use this core of historical studies to promote proficiency in reading, writing, public speaking, and math, and in several other fields of academic study, so that students could meet the state standards for academic achievement.
Committee members were betting that they could make the school experience interesting to students by presenting world history as a kind of creation story. The story of civilization tells how their own society was created. "Big history" tells how the physical universe, the earth, and the human species were created. By focusing upon this subject, students could gain experience in reading scholarly articles and books, in writing essays or research reports, and in making oral presentations. Each area of history would lead to a discipline with its own set of courses. The high-school courses would have a coherent structure of content and be relevant to the world in which today's young people live.
Alas, the proposal for the World History charter school was not among those accepted by the committee. The winners were announced at a luncheon at the University of Minnesota on June 4, 2002. William McGaughey did not attend since he was at the annual conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations in Jamaica. David Kopf was the lone committee member who attended.
Kopf reported that only four proposals were accepted and announced at the luncheon. Of these, three were existing charter schools. The fourth was sponsored by a group headed by the wife of the Mayor of St. Paul. The fix was in: Charter schools already in existence had a clear advantage over new schools in such criteria as access to experienced teachers and a definite school location. The mayor's wife's group had another obvious advantage. To say the least, the result of this competition was a disappointment to those others among the twelve groups who thought that they were competing on a level playing field.
For McGaughey, the experience suggested that politics played a big role in deciding educational policies and programs. One had to be a player in that sphere. Weeks after learning the results of the school competition, he filed as a candidate for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary. A year after that, he was a candidate for President of the United States as a Democrat. While these political adventures represented a career detour for a world historian, they also provided first-hand experience of political processes for the type of society in which we live.
1. School's mission and vision: This charter high school will offer a curriculum focused on world history, defined as the story of how our natural and human world came to be. Such history should excite students' curiosity while instilling a comprehensive, well-integrated understanding of geographical, religious, industrial, and political relationships and facts. Its themes would feed other social-sciences and basic-skills courses including reading, writing, and public speaking. Students would take an active part both in historical storytelling and in evaluating each others' communication exercises. Offering a basis for international communication, this program will prepare students for participation in an increasingly global society.
2. Members of planning coalition: William McGaughey, author; David Kopf, author and retired University of Minnesota history professor; Mark Welter, former high-school and current college world-history teacher; Lucky Rosenbloom, high-school teacher and president of Minnesota Black Republican Coalition; Mark Stanley, computer consultant and University of Minnesota web design instructor; Chen Zhang, University of Minnesota instructor and student; Harvey Hyatt, personnel work. William McGaughey is primary contact person. No commitments have yet been made regarding the interim board. Two former high-school social-studies teachers have expressed interest in working with this group in an occasional consulting capacity.
3. Research supporting school's approach:
(a) The 1988 Bradley Commission and its successor organization, National Council for History Education, have published reports summarizing studies that show the value of history education. Among the findings, the reports argue that a study of history helps to "prepare the public citizen", allowing people to "pursue lines of dignity, moral choice, and personal fulfillment." "Thoughtful judgment" is an aim of historical study. To nurture historical habits of mind, "narrative history must illuminate continuing themes and significant questions 'including but reaching beyond' empirical facts, providing the larger context for factual detail. Students need to know why it is important to remember certain things and to get their facts straight ... (T)teachers need to select those particulars that most vividly illustrate the larger questions that they are asking ... Journals, short essays, small-group and whole-group discussions enrich such habits of mind ... Teachers (need to) guard against tendencies to slip into merely formal, abstract 'critical thinking' untethered to historical reality."
Also, the reports conclude that "the study of history is indispensable to an ordered view of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. In this sense, history is the generative subject through which students gain understanding and respect for human accomplishments in all fields of endeavor ... History is ... an interdisciplinary subject ... which combines lively storytelling and biography with conceptual analysis from every relevant discipline." Such studies should provide a good answer to students' questioning, "What am I getting out of this?" The reports recommend courses in U.S. history, history of western civilization, and world history, noting that "the last, which requires the most ingenuity of all, is also the most scarce."
(b) The Gilder-Lehrman Institute, which focuses on U.S.history, has established several "history high schools" in the New York City area and has a project to further history studies with Washburn High School in Minneapolis. The Academy of American Studies in Queen, founded in 1996, graduated its first class in 2000. New York magazine (April 1998) declared this to be one of the top ten high schools in New York City. Ninety-seven percent of its students passed English on the 2000 Regents Exam (compared with 50% city wide) and 95 percent of the graduating class was accepted into college. The Institute's precollege summer school in U.S. history helped to improve students' writing skills. Students who had been through the program showed a 175-point improvement in SAT scores.
(c) Story telling is an important part of history education. Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis observe that stories are "part of the human experience from which we may draw lessons and model behaviors ... (S)tories tell us what heroes do .. Our consideration of difficult stories can provide some practical tools for classroom problem identification and solving. By developing skills in listening to - and telling - difficult stories, teachers can improve their ability to communicate to and for those who cannot tell their own stories. One of the benefits of using storytelling in the classroom is building community with students. Moreover, creating safe spaces in which students can speak their experience can also foster a community of compassion in which differences and hurts can be understood and brought to light."
(d) A book, Educating Everybody's Children: Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners, issued by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Alexandria, Virginia, has identified several strategies and practices found to be effective in teaching today's students. Among them, Strategy 3.8 states: "Classroom instruction in a multicultural context is enhanced when it involves students in learning about themselves first - through oral history projects, for example, in which children involve their parents, grandparents, etc."
Strategy 4:13 states: "Teachers use subject matter rather than specific linguistic skill exercises, to teach English to students with limited proficiency in English." The report recommends thematic interdisciplinary teaching: "Focusing on a theme and relating various disciplines to that theme enables students to better understand each new area since it is connected to a known core. When there is a theme, the vocabulary and skills can be developed in connection with the content. This approach provides coherence to students who are proficient in languages other than English."
Likewise, Strategy 5.5 states: "Teachers who integrate reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities help students make natural connections among the disciplines and support their development as readers and communicators." Strategy 6.l7 recommends: "Involve students in the evaluation process."
4. Programs unavailable in East Metro area: While there is a World Cultures and Languages magnet school for K-6 students on the east side of St. Paul, there are no history-centered high schools in the Twin Cities. While there are charter schools specializing in the cultures of African Americans, Hmongs, and other peoples, there are none specializing in all peoples' history and culture. Education in U.S. history receives much greater support than education in world history. Matt Brandt of the Minnesota Humanities Commission has suggested that a rigorous curriculum in world history is favored neither by educational "liberals" or "conservatives". Liberals, he said, tend to favor student- and parent-directed instruction at the expense of "core knowledge" while conservatives associate world history with politically tinged "multiculturalism", preferring courses in western civilization. Howard Seretan of the Gilder Lehrman Institute said that he did not know of any comparable schools in the United States that specialized in world history. Mo Chang, charter-school specialist with the St. Paul public schools pointed out that the Achieve Language Academy stressed world cultures but did not have a predominantly historical direction. The world-history charter school, prospectively named after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was educated in St. Paul, will develop a new curriculum in world history which it will share with other schools to bolster their world-cultures and history teaching. It will also have a computer-technology component, involving some of the latest features, to help make the courses visually more interesting.
5. Measurable academic goals:
(a) Plato believed that the purpose of an education in philosophy was not to impart knowledge but to redirect the soul away from mundane interests and toward contemplation of essences and ideals. The philosopher would come to love these things, not merely know about them. In much the same spirit, we propose, as our first priority, to ignite a real interest in history (and in the larger society generally) among today's St. Paul-area students. Students almost everywhere have a low opinion of history. "Don't know nothin' about history", begins a famous Simon & Garfunkel song. History is boring - too filled with meaningless facts about long-dead political personalities, wars and treaties, etc. We propose to make history interesting again by reformulating world history as a creation story. Whatever institutions and cultural elements can be found in today's society have an explanation in history. Each has an interesting story to tell. Young people can relate to stories if told well.
Unfortunately, the story of world civilization is not told well in today's committee-determined and commercially driven history textbooks. Though glitzy, they show too much political influence and too little coherence in thematic structure. Our group has the expertise to develop a new curriculum (based on a combination of concepts in William McGaughey's Five Epochs of Civilization, David Kopf's Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia, and materials relating to "Big History" assembled by Mark Welter) that will avoid both defects as well as to develop a strong technological component. With respect to measurement of student interest, we propose to increase the graduation rate of our students so that it exceeds the St. Paul average of sixty percent. (The more interested students will want to stay in school longer.) We also propose to seek a better-than-average attendance rate. We would also do a follow-up survey of the school's former students, both those who graduate and who do not, to determine their level of satisfaction with a world-history-centered high-school education.
(b) With respect to knowledge, we want students to know and appreciate the contributions to human society made by all peoples, not just their own. This will help to create a more harmonious world. We want students to feel more comfortable with the institutions and practices of society, knowing their origin and course of development. More confident in their understanding of society, they can act more confidently and successfully. We want students to know the histories of other peoples so that they can deal with them as friends in an increasingly global society. For these goals, conventional testing - true/false or multiple-choice questions and short essays - can measure progress toward those goals. The particular scheme of world history which would, among others, be used (the five epochs) furnishes a seamless curriculum that might also include study in civics, comparative religions, business, communications, and computers, approached from a different direction. Progress toward these goals may also be measured by conventional means.
(c) Perhaps the most important goal is to give students an adequate foundation in the basic skills - reading, writing, and mathematics - to which we would add public speaking. Additionally, there are three smaller skills relating to tools: proficiency in typing, use of the ten-key adding machine, and operation of personal computers. With respect to the basic skills, a world-history curriculum provides an excellent foundation for learning because it provides content that can be used as materials to practice the skills. Having an acquired interest in an historical subject, students can read, write, and speak about related elements and naturally improve skill performance. They can avoid exercise for the sake of exercise, pretending to know something when they do not. While the teacher narrates or describes the events of world history at the highest or most general level, he or she can assign students the task of researching these experiences in greater detail and then making oral presentations to the class. Not only do students share in the teaching of their fellow students, they are inspired to better performance by the fear of failing in front of them. Public speaking includes both story telling and argumentation. Reading and writing exercises can also be based on history-related texts. In this case, teachers can require that all students in the class do the same exercise and then identify the best performances so that students can learn from each other. Measurement of student achievement would be based on a combination of student, teacher, and (possibly) outsider evaluation. Proficiency in the three smaller skills would be measured by a one-time test which is repeated until the student is able to pass, like acquiring merit badges.
6. Measurement of student progress/ achievement: The answer to this question is given with the answer to the previous question. We have a diverse set of goals and an equally diverse set of techniques to measure progress. Such goals as improved graduation rates and student attendance can be measured by related record keeping and simple comparison with St. Paul averages. Though we would want our school's performance to be above average, it would be pointless to set goals now based on arbitrary percentage points. Perhaps this can be negotiated with the sponsor. Progress toward the knowledge-based goals would be measured by a combination of tests that the school itself and independent testing agencies had devised; likewise, proficiency in the three smaller skills.
Progress toward the goals related to proficiency in reading, writing, and public speaking would be measured in various ways. The first evaluation would often be made by the students themselves. If students all did the same exercise, they might be asked to vote for the best three performances (whether a spoken presentation, a piece of writing, or a test of reading comprehension). This would be followed by a class discussion of why the three winning performances were so good. The teacher could, in turn, do an analysis of them using rubrics. The teacher would do a similar analysis of the nonwinning performances so that all students are evaluated. The purpose here is to maintain a positive focus to avoid embarrassing the poor performers and also to encourage the idea that excellent expressions can occur in various ways. Having done the exercise himself or herself, each student would see from the winning performances of others what he or she had missed. That would give ideas on how to approach a similar exercise the next time. A more general goal would be to reduce the need for remedial classes in reading and writing by graduates of the charter school. In this case, we might use the same tests which the colleges use to determine the need for remedial reading or writing and try to bring failing students up to the standard before graduation. Proficiency in mathematics could be tested in conventional ways.
7. Populations served: This would be a charter high school encompassing grades nine through twelve. The ages of the students might fall roughly between 14 and 18. The students would come from St. Paul and the east metro area. According to Mo Chang, 60 to 80 percent of St. Paul public-school students are people of color. Hmongs comprise the largest group followed by African Americans, Hispanic, and Somali students. Some have limited proficiency in English. Many come from impoverished families. Students might be attracted to the school by various marketing devices - posters, videos, news releases, advertising in the educational section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that appears in August, etc. In addition, we would approach community-based organizations that represent various groups to seek discussions with interested students. In that regard, we have had brief discussions with representatives of the Neighborhood House (serving predominantly Hispanic people) and with the Hmong Minnesota Pacific Association, the Lao Family Community of Minnesota, and the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, who all expressed a healthy interest in what we were doing. Sen. Mee Moua has indicated her willingness to meet with us after the legislative session has ended. It is possible that naming the school after Kofi Annan, a native of Ghana, may attract the interest of African Americans and Somalis.
8. Community/ business partners: Representatives of three community organizations which are concerned with global society expressed interest in partnering with this world-history charter school: the Swedish Institute, Minnesota chapter of the World Federalist Association, and the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy. Attached are letters from representatives of the first two organizations; Mark Ritchie, founder and president of the IATP, expressed his support by email. While it is possible that the school might furnish interns for these organizations or receive curriculum input from them, a more likely type of relationship would be based on personal contacts that would give the students a window on current issues relating to the world community and give the organization a youthful audience and sounding board. The Minneapolis-based IATP is one of the nation's premier critics of trade-based globalization. The Minnesota chapter of the World Federalist Association is a local affiliate of an organization heavily involved in the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Educational activities of the Swedish Institute were described in a May 9th article in the Metro section of the Star Tribune. In addition, representatives of the Minnesota International Center at the University of Minnesota have offered to include the school, once established, in certain of its activities. An educator with the Beijing (China) public school system has expressed interest in student exchanges between China and the United States if an international school could be attached to the charter school. The idea of a common world-history curriculum is not practical given the government's tight control of school curricula.
9. Experienced educators on the faculty: We do not yet have commitments from any experienced educators to be on the faculty of this school. Prospectively, the school would begin operations in the 2004 school year. The need for income before that time, advanced age, lack of a teaching license, and other factors have deterred commitments at this time. It is possible, though not certain, that Michael B., an experienced social-studies teacher who has gone back to school to seek additional credentials, would consent to serve on the faculty of this school if his timetable coincided with ours. He is conscientious and highly recommended, having taught at international schools in Saudi Arabia and other places and at the ill-fated MTTA.
10. School facility: Plans to begin operations in the 2004 school year have discouraged us from making serious arrangements to secure a facility. On a preliminary basis, it does not appear that any large Twin-Cities based corporation is willing to share facilities or otherwise support this charter school. The real-estate manager for the 3M Company ruled out use of its facility on Arcade Street and east 7th Street in St. Paul though he did not wish to close the door entirely to a lease arrangement with us at other facilities. There is, however, some commercial office space available at this time which could be affordable if the $1,500 state aid per student per year is maintained by the state legislature. The Rossmor building in downtown St. Paul currently leases space to Bethel College and has had a good experience with schools. Assuming that each student requires 200 square feet of space, its quoted price would approximate the $1,500 annual state aid. A representative of Welchco Realty, which has commercial office space available on west University Avenue in St . Paul, quoted a similar price. In both cases, it would be hard to predict costs and space availability two years from now. The White Bear Lake school district has recently decided to close its Bellaire elementary school, which has 40,000 square feet of classroom space spread out among 18 classrooms. The superintendent indicated willingness to lease the space to a charter school in the future though he was unable to discuss price.
11. Family involvement: Both before and after the school is opened, work with Neighborhood House, the Hmong Minnesota Pacific Association, Lao Family Community, Council of Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, and other community groups to hold discussions with parents about school issues including discipline and values. If possible, discuss these issues in the context of focus groups. Relate world history to the experience of those communities and to the immigrant experience. Seek parents as history resources to tell the story of previous generations and of traditions in their community. Life stories of parents and grandparents can be used as a model of institutional stories illustrating how history is organized and told. At the beginning of each school year, hold a parent-student-teacher conference to present and discuss the objectives of the world-history curriculum and seek parent input into the process, followed by quarterly conferences between parent and teacher to discuss student progress. Parental concerns expressed at those meetings can be translated into curriculum modifications or individualized instruction. At times, parents may be asked to help students with particular projects such as preparing ethnic foods, researching family trees, and recalling stories of earlier generations. Students may stage storytelling and other performances for parents to demonstrate what the classes are doing. A parent-teacher association can coordinate parental concerns to provide feedback to the school and make policy recommendations.
12. Participation by High-School Students: Apart from discussions with William McGaughey's stepdaughter, there was no participation by high-school students in developing this proposal. Ms. T., a history teacher at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, has promised to bring the proposal to the attention of her class and seek comments at some time during the week beginning May 13. Jean H., world-history teacher at Eden Prairie High School, has promised to evaluate the concepts in Five Epochs of Civilization though she made no commitments to involve her class. With respect to future participation, we will seek to establish focus groups through community organizations such as Neighborhood House and the Hmong Minnesota Pacific Association to refine our curriculum and plan for action before putting it into effect. Also, the course schedules will leave ample time for teachers to allow further discussion in areas of particular interest to the students in class.
13. Sponsorship: We do not yet have a sponsor. Outstanding requests, which have not yet been rejected, include St. Paul Academy, Neighborhood House, and Concordia College. We also have in mind several other organizations which have not yet been approached.
14. Contribution to other Star High Schools: Because our field of emphasis would be world history, we would be in a position to share parts of our history curriculum and related materials with other Star High Schools to the extent of their interest. We also intend to create a school web site, designed by Mark Stanley and maintained by the students, which would be a clearing house for information about world history. Not only the Star High Schools but other schools throughout the world would be able to contribute to this web site and benefit from it. Because our scheme of world history places more than usual emphasis on entertainment and mass communication, it has an obvious fit with a communications-oriented high school associated with Twin Cities Public Television if one is established.
1. World history is defined as the story of how our world came to be. In a broad sense, it can include explanations of how our natural world (including the human species) came to be; in a narrow sense, it would tell how the world of human society came to be. World history proper begins with the invention of writing which has allowed historians to examine and interpret the record of humanity's interior consciousness.
2. World history is not limited to political history for "our world" is much broader than that created by governments or political activities. It should also include histories of other institutions and traditions that comprise society in its present state.
3. There should be an ongoing process of formulating world history which includes a variety of perspectives and techniques. Part of the value of historical studies lies in the process of this continuing search and in discussions among interested parties.
4. There should be objective criteria (such as population) for the selection of stories to be included in world history at various levels of detail. This selection should resist the temptation to make certain types of people look good or bad, or to suggest that one type of society or set of beliefs is better than another, or that history is headed toward a particular conclusion. World history should be a history for all the world's people, as free as possible from regional or ethnocentric bias and from influence by the agendas of politically or academically dominant groups. A focus on the story of how societies developed should avoid those problems.
5. A world history curriculum should aim for comprehensive knowledge while allowing flexibility to accommodate students' individual interests. Its structure is that of a pyramid; the more general accounts of experiences appear at the top and more specific or detailed accounts of the same experiences appear at several levels farther down toward the base. The teacher should handle presentations of knowledge at the top of the pyramid while seeking opportunities, according to the direction of classroom discussion, to explore certain topics in greater detail.
Three Sources of Theory for World History
1. Big history: David Christianson, formerly an Australian professor now teaching at the University of California in San Diego, conceived the idea of "big history" - the story of our world beginning with the Big Bang. Mark Welter has popularized this in the United States. This would be a history of the natural world and of pre-civilized human societies.
2. Five Epochs of Civilization: The concepts developed by William McGaughey's book of the same name are covered in other parts of this web site.
3. "Process, Pattern, and Period" in Asian Societies: Authors Edward Farmer, Gavin Hambly, David Kopf, Byron Marshall, and Romeyn Taylor described the history of Asian societies from the 4th millennium B.C. to the present in their two-volume book, "Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia," published by Addison-Wesley Publishing in 1977.
It's possible, of course, to draw upon many other sources of historical theory to create the framework for a curriculum in World History. However, let's see how these might be integrated from the sources mentioned above.
We define World History in the broadest possible sense. World History is the story of how our world was created - from the very beginning to the present. "Big History" would embrace the latest scientific theories of how the natural world was created including such events as the birth of the physical universe, formation of the solar system, geological history of the earth, evolution of the species of plant and animal life, development of man as a species of animal, and human experience in prehistoric times. We see that this encompasses the studies of physics, biology, anthropology, and many other subjects not considered a part of history proper.
World History is the study of how the world of human society came to be. Traditionally, this story began with the rise of city states in the Middle East, India, and China. The book, Five Epochs of Civilization, provides an overall framework for this history. Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia goes into much detail in discussing the political, religious, and cultural histories of Asia. There is also a need for a more detailed history of commerce, education, and entertainment.
The following discussion describes the "3 P's" approach taken in Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia :
The process represents the authors' interpretation of significant developments taking place in world history. Their study, of course, applies only to Asian civilizations, but it is possible to follow a similar method for all societies on earth. The focus throughout is upon the rise and fall of political empires.
And so, we have the first urban states developing large political organizations, followed by ethical protest. Then universal political empires are established which persist in the face of crisis. Then the world religions appear. The political order is shattered and remains fragmented until the Mongols reunify it in the 12th century. Then three new Islamic empires arise.
In volume II, we see the Islamic and Far Eastern Asian empires arise as the Mongol empire disintegrates. But these, too, become subject to internal stress. Then the European powers colonize several societies provoking a crisis of Asian culture. This leads to a surge of anti-colonial nationalism in the mid 20th century and a new integration of Asian societies.
This scheme of history is focused on the experience of political organizations. Two external intrusions - the Mongol and the West European - interrupt their organic progress in the second phase, while Hunnish barbarians and world religions do the same in the first. History is a succession of cyclical experiences rather than a progression toward "more advanced" forms of society.
The above scheme shows how particular segments of history as presented in Five Epochs of Civilization (or Big History) might be related to other courses that could be taught in high school.
In practice, the World History charter school may not want to stick with such a rigid scheme. It has been suggested that spiraling the entire sequence in deeper and deeper levels of discussion might improve learning. Also, this would suit the reality of frequent turnover within the student body.
All these subjects could serve as springboards to teaching reading, writing, and speaking skills. Perhaps a large portion of class time should be reserved for classroom exercises in these arts which, in turn, might mean that total class time should be extended or arranged to include these extra features.
Math and science instruction falls outside the world-history curriculum. Such instruction might be given in other, more conventional classes. To suit the history theme, the teacher may want to include a short history of the subject matter - e.g., history of mathematics, history of science.
The core World History teaching activity would feature a conventional classroom situation with a teacher lecturing students for two thirds of the time. The teacher would tell the story of World History at the most general level in the historical time period prescribed by the course. The other one third of the time would be reserved for student presentations in class.
World History can be described as a pyramid of experiences ranging from general trends at the top to myriad personal experiences at the bottom. Knowledge can be delivered in the form of stories at each level.
The student presentations, based on the students' own research and thought, would fall into two categories:
Academic goals: An objective is to train students in the arts of storytelling and of argumentation, giving them experience to increase their comfort level. Also, the need to make a class presentation will create an incentive to learn the material well and will spur healthy competition among students. The classroom presentations might be videotaped and the teacher's evaluation might become part of the student's grade. After each presentation, the teacher might suggest other details of the story or other arguments to improve the performance. The teacher might give special awards for the three best presentations in a class or for the best original arguments. Students might also rate each other's performances, illustrating the political process as well as exercising critical judgment. A course in "historical approaches to knowledge" would teach how to solve problems in various ways and lend itself to practical demonstration of that knowledge.
Conventional testing techniques would be used to make sure that students learned and remembered reading assignments and the teacher's lesson. These could include true-false and multiple-choice questions as well as essay questions.
Other Skills Developed through a World-History Curriculum
The World History charter high school would have a core of courses, from 9th to 12th grades, telling the story of human society's origin and subsequent development. Besides conveying knowledge of historical content, the courses would provide exercises to allow students to develop their skills in reading, writing, and speaking. The students themselves would evaluate each other's performances. This would be followed by the teacher's evaluation and by a more general discussion of technique, using the students' presentations as examples.
Storytelling: The teacher would tell the story of world history at the most general level, making sure that students gain a comprehensive sense of world history. Part of class time would be reserved for student presentations. Students would tell stories in 2-to-5 minute segments of specific events taking place within the context of time and place of the general discussion. They would do research to acquire the details needed for the stories. This activity would be an integral part of the class lesson, giving more detailed knowledge of historical events.
Reading: The teacher would reserve a time - say, 5 minutes - for the students to read a particular text. Students would then put the text aside. The teacher would then ask students to write something about the text - perhaps, paraphrasing its message or answering a question. Afterwards, the teacher would collect the papers and read each one to the class, not identifying the author. The teacher would ask students to vote for the top three presentations, compile the votes, and announce the winners. Then the teacher would give an interpretation of the text.
Writing: Students would be assigned to write a short paper on a topic or issue related to the history course. The paper could be given as homework (allowing students to research the question) or as a classroom test. Again, the teacher would collect the papers, read them aloud, ask the class to vote for the three best papers, announce the winners, and give his or her own interpretation.
Speaking: This exercise would be similar to that of the writing exercise except that students would give oral presentations. These presentations would be videotaped individually in another room and then by shown on a VCR to the class. A variation would be that the teacher would ask each student to answer follow-up questions, testing knowledge of the subject, and the answers to these questions would also be evaluated.
General principles: To allow students to vote for the Top Three presentations in each type of exercise will inspire students to be in the Top Three. Reading or speaking the test results will let each student see how others in class have approached the same issues - i.e., to seek a better way. Also, the various tests will give frequent practice in these techniques. Because the subject matter will be history, the focus will be on content, allowing students to make more knowledgeable presentations. This approach will also allow students to know each other better and to emulate each other's good example.
Thoughts on Parental Involvement
A theme of World History would to be encourage students to discover who they are individually. Do they identify with particular historical characters? Do they identify with particular groups - their ethnic group, race, religion, gender, class, nationality, etc. Encourage students to discuss these matters with their parents.
Some research would require students to obtain information from their parents. For example, students would be asked to prepare a family tree, going back several generations. Parents and relatives would help them to do that. Students might also be asked to tell an interesting story about a relative in that family tree, again using information from their parents.
Students might also be asked to discuss how their own experience differs from that of their parents. For instance, what types of music and entertainment do they like compared with their parents' preferences. What is their parents' occupation compared with their own occupational preferences as projected. This would give a sense of how contemporary history is creating generational differences.
Such classroom assignments would be given in special courses offered each year, not in all the classes. But parents could be involved in the other classes as well:
(a) Before each class begins, student would take home to their parents a short description of the class, its content, and its objectives. This would give parents an opportunity to make comments or ask questions. Where parents have strong objections, students could switch class. But parents would also be encouraged to talk about these subjects with their children and suggest resources for research.
(b) The students' presentations which are based on
information supplied by their parents might become the basis of a family-night
event: Each student would make his or her presentation before an audience
including parents. The parent would have an opportunity to add detail
and perspective to the stories. This would also be an opportunity to
announce the "Top Three" presentations in the teacher's estimation
and so give personal recognition for the achievement. Students would
gain experience in the art of public performance.