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.”