High school social studies courses at Frederick County Public Schools have been going through an upgrade for the past year.

One of the biggest overhauls, according to Colleen Bernard, secondary social studies curriculum specialist for FCPS, was to the sequence of social studies courses that students take from eight to 11th grades. Before this school year, students were taking American Studies 1 in eighth grade, American Government in ninth grade, Modern World History in 10th grade, and American Studies 2 in 11th grade.

Bernard explained that after analysis, it was found that the two-year gap between the American Studies courses led to students having a slight disconnect when taking American Government in ninth grade because they didn’t have the full knowledge and context of American history on which to rely. The Board of Education then voted to change the order in 2017, and the new sequence took hold this year.

Today, students take American Studies 1 and 2 in eighth and ninth grade respectively, American Government in 10th, and a brand-new Modern World History course in 11th.

“Now [students] have the totality of American history before taking American government,” Bernard said.

High school students are also allowed to take Advanced Placement equivalents of these courses.

There is also an emphasis on a global perspective in this sequence particularly with the new Modern World History class, which focuses on historical events and figures from 1750 to the present. Bernard said the course has been revamped to have a less Eurocentric view.

“When we look at WWII, we’re not just looking at the fronts where the United States and Britain fought; we’re looking at the totality of that conflict on all of the people of the world,” Bernard said.

This also comes into play when choosing historical sources for students to examine.

Bernard explained that FCPS is shifting social studies courses to a more inquiry-based model where students are encouraged to question and analyze primary sources and not just accept them at face value.

“Who’s to say the primary source is more credible than a secondary source that is based on multiple accounts that have been corroborated?” Bernard said.

Students are asked to look at these sources and consider all factors involved such as the birthplace of the author, their class in society at the time, their education level, and who their targeted audience was.

This method of thinking and questioning helps students gain a better view of history by being able to look past any biases that may have been present, which Bernard says is crucial to consuming information both inside and outside the classroom.

“It is a life skill that we be able to critically analyze information ... it’s more than just, ‘Oh, it’s a primary source, it must be true,’” Bernard said. “It’s a skill that we need to be informed citizens of a democracy.”

And it’s not just world history. A shift is being made with American history as well. New topics are coming into the classroom that previously may have been forgotten about or simply not taught, such as the stories of freedmen who lived during the era of slavery in the United States.

“If we always talk about slavery, we forget about all the good things that happened ... such as what were minorities doing besides being owned by someone else,” school board member Jay Mason said. “There is a whole other side of history out there.”

In addition to making sure courses are far reaching on a global and national level, Bernard said the school system is also partnering with local organizations such as Rose Hill Manor and the AARCH — African American Resources, Cultural Heritage Society — to weave their curated resources into instructional material to provide a local lens to students.

There may also be some new social studies course options for high school students coming within the next two years.

Bernard said her team is looking at adding some focused electives such as a Gender Studies course, African American Studies course, or a Diversity Studies course.

Within the next few weeks, high school students will be given a survey and asked to rank their interest on a list of possible new courses.

Bernard said a committee will then convene at the beginning of the new year and a final framework and set of course standards will be presented to the school board sometime next fall, with students beginning to register for the new courses in the spring of 2021.

But no matter what courses students take, Bernard said continuing to teach critical lessons such as history is invaluable.

“If people are uneducated, they can’t participate, and their rights get taken away and abused by government,” Bernard said. “The soil of democracy is education. ... If education breaks down, society breaks down.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter:

@katrynajill.

(11) comments

public-redux

A course on the history and roles of religions in the US would be a valuable addition.

ResUrbana

This is so disappointing. The way I read it, kids should basically question history as it was taught previously, meaning let’s question how “great” America was. So now they’ll have kids question whether we were great in WWI & WWII? I’ve said this before—it’s really up to the us parents to instill patriotism in their children, bc you’re not getting it in the schools.

hayduke2

I guess what you get out of an article depends on your world view. That is not what I took away from the article. Besides, should students not be aware of some of the not so great moments in American history - treatment of native Americans, internment camps, early cover-ups of the dangers of smoking, overreach by J Edgar and McCarthy, the real basis of the Vietnam campaign, etc. I believe knowing this and still pushing to make the country greater and adhere to universal values is the true root of patriotism.

dabittle

"Bernard said her team is looking at adding some focused electives such as a Gender Studies course, African American Studies course, or a Diversity Studies course." WTW? BOE attempts to expand curriculum and provide additional prospectives and context are to be commended. Our geographic location--Antietam, Gettysburg, Washington D.C. etc.--provide unique opportunities for teachers and students alike to understand and appreciate the relevance of such topics. However, developing "Gender Studies and Diversity Studies" curriculum for our middle and high school students, while appealing to those few liberals who are obsessed with identity politics, will stand as yet another watershed moment in the general decline of academic discipline and rigor in our county! As a taxpayer, this watering down of our traditional education serves as yet another example of government bureaucrats and school house functionaries, ever eager to appeal to vocal minorities, going off the reservation!


Frayou

Continuation of progressive social engineering. It began in our public schools some time ago. I witnessed with my children attending schools and continuing while going to college. They are adults now with families. The good thing, they were listening to their parents as well. I’ll leave it to the readers of the article to determine whether the current state in our country Is better for it.

ResUrbana

@Frayou, well said.

linoscra

We already have high school elective courses in the curriculum guide on WWII, Contemporary America, and the Civil War. Whether a particular school runs them is based on student sign-ups.

walter3rd

Thankfully these courses are being considered as electives, not required courses for graduation.

threecents

How dare they consider an elective class about diversity, especially at Frederick High, which has students from about 30 countries. I am sure they are considering other electives - not sure why the FNP left those out.

hayduke2

three... [thumbup][thumbup]

linoscra

We even have a local (Frederick County) history and a law and society elective. Student choices drive what is offered. We have no elective course on women’s history, African-American studies, etc.

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