Historical Fact or Fiction?

Greetings fellow classmates,

Whew! I don’t know about all of you, but my mind has been spinning ever since our Tuesday night class. There’s so much to reflect upon when it comes to learning how to teach elementary history and social studies topics, and I’ve found myself contemplating the best ways to integrate language arts in a cross-curricular fashion to get students interested in reading and learning about the past. 

To add some personal context, I’m forty-something years old and my elementary school years were in the eighties. (And yes, my younger friends, it was as fantastic as you’ve heard!) But from what I remember about learning history as a child, I found it boring. Painful. The subject to endure. History was taught from a textbook only. There were no supplementary materials. And I hated it. However, I loved to read . . . but only fiction. English was my favorite subject, and all subjects were taught separately and distinctly. 

That brings me to the following central teaching question that I’d like you all to ponder: Should we as educators use historical fiction to help teach our elementary students history? Or, will this blending of genres impede a child’s ability to discern fact from fiction? Should we avoid historical fiction until a certain grade/age level or introduce it as early as possible to potentially help students (like a younger me) become more engaged in learning about the past? 

I’ve compiled a few varying viewpoints on the teaching and learning of history through historical fiction below: 

I’ll reserve my own thoughts and opinions until the rest of you have had a chance to read, reflect, and respond. Happy Thursday!

I remain,

Your sincere


Sue Annely 

The VA Social Studies SOL Revision

Below you will find links to official documents, news articles, videos, public statements, and other resources designed to help you understand the complex issues surrounding the process to revise the History and Social Science Standards of Learning in Virginia. They are arranged in chronological order to outline the sequence of events. For ease of use, links to the various drafts are linked here and in the body of this post.

What the Law Requires
Below is an excerpt from the Code of Virginia. (Read this section of the Code in its entirety.)

§ 22.1-253.13:1. (For Effective Date, see 2022 Acts cc. 549, 550, cl. 2) Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives.
B. The Board of Education shall establish educational objectives known as the Standards of Learning, which shall form the core of Virginia’s educational program, and other educational objectives, which together are designed to ensure the development of the skills that are necessary for success in school and for preparation for life in the years beyond.
. . . . .
The Standards of Learning in all subject areas shall be subject to regular review and revision to maintain rigor and to reflect a balance between content knowledge and the application of knowledge in preparation for eventual employment and lifelong learning. The Board of Education shall establish a regular schedule, in a manner it deems appropriate, for the review, and revision as may be necessary, of the Standards of Learning in all subject areas. Such review of each subject area shall occur at least once every seven years. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Board from conducting such review and revision on a more frequent basis.
. . . . .
The Board of Education shall include in the Standards of Learning for history and social science the study of contributions to society of diverse people. For the purposes of this subsection, “diverse” includes consideration of disability, ethnicity, race, and gender.

Timeline of Events and Multiple Versions of Draft Standards
The first draft of the social studies SOL was developed over many months in consultation with multiple stakeholders, including “museums, historians, professors, political scientists, geographers, economists, teachers, parents, business leaders, and students.” This work was begun during the last governor’s administration (Northam). The review of the standards was held up after the installation of the new administration (Youngkin). It’s important to consider the role that Executive Order Number One may have played here.

In July, the Governor appointed 5 new members to the Board of Education. Here are some varying perspectives on this.

The draft created by the committee was slated to be reviewed by the Board of Education on July 21st, 2022, but that meeting was postponed. Minor revisions to these standards were put forth in August. (Note that public comments for the standards are available for review on both the July and August meeting pages.) Review of the standards was subsequently postponed two more times.

In November, the Superintendent put forth a new set of standards for review. The agenda items for meetings are posted in advance, so the new draft was made public on November 10, 2022.  Very quickly, social media erupted with concerns about the draft. It quickly became apparent that important ideas were missing. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not mentioned until grade 6. The document was quietly edited (adding MLK Day to Standard K.7) without changing the date in the footer. This updated document was posted to the November meeting agenda. The “original” version was deleted.

At the November meeting, the Board directed the Superintendent to deliver a revised set of standards that includes content from the August version. The education department was also directed to provide a document comparing the 2015 standards, August and November drafts, to the new draft to be delivered in January.

On December 20, 2022, the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium (VSSLC), the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD), and the American Historical Association (AHA) collaborated to develop a comprehensive set of standards to address the Board’s November request to create a document that included content from multiple drafts. The draft includes multiple colors to show the structure of the combined standards.

The VDOE has not responded to this proposed set of standards.

The Superintendent released a third draft of the standards on January 3, 2023, to be reviewed by the Board on February 2, 2023. Below are the draft standards and responses to date.

As you consider these issues, you should reflect on HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 474, which was offered to the General Assembly by Delegate Marie E. March (R), House District 7, on January 11, 2023. This is a Constitutional amendment that proposes to repeal the Board of Education and transfer its constitutional powers and duties to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

  • HJ 474 – Proposing amendments to Sections 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 of Article VIII of the Constitution of Virginia

Two Thoughts on Cultural Difference

Last week, we read the first three chapters of Richmond’s Unhealed History, which focused on the interactions between early settlers at Jamestown and Henrico and the Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy whom the English gradually drove out of their places of habitation.  As I read, I was struck by two things:

1)  The ubiquity of violence on a level that Americans (Native and otherwise) today would consider shocking, both between and within the two groups.  Colonists killed and ate each other when starving and colonial authorities regularly beat rule-breakers within an inch of their lives.  The Powhatan Confederacy was united by Wahunsenacawh (“Chief Powhatan”) partially through violent coercion and was at war with its Monacan neighbors.  And of course both groups regularly slaughtered members of the other group.  It may be tempting to say that these were not ordinary circumstances for either culture, as the Indians were under threat from colonial encroachment and the English were under threat from starvation and disease, and this is true enough—all cultures become stricter, harsher, and more violent or “closed” when they are under threat, and more permissive and gentle or “open” during periods of safety and prosperity.  But it is not enough to say this, I think.  It does not account for the utter casualness with which colonists recount the slaying of Native captives.  In fact I have had this same experience with almost every culture or historical period I have studied—it appears to me that the norm throughout human history has been for people to hurt or kill each other much more frequently and casually than in our own society.  I do not think my own upper-class American culture is less physically violent because we are somehow more moral or empathetic than other peoples, but rather simply because we have succeeded so completely in violently subjugating the rest of the planet that we rarely come into conflict within our own communities over resources—we first-worlders “export” our violence, if you will, to the third-world countries that grow our food and make our goods.  So my question for you all is:  how do we teach our children about violence in history?  How do we explain to them that historic people were so much more violent without making them seem like heartless monsters?  Or do we explain it to them?  When are students ready to learn about the differences in values surrounding violence in other times and places?

2)  The constant miscommunication between colonists and Natives.  Really, reading these chapters I got the impression that maybe there was never a single significant conversation between an English and an Indian in which they really understood each other.  The English came to the New World with a whole host of unquestioned assumptions about the way humans live our lives and relate to the land and the gods and each other.  To their minds, all peoples either were Christian or had failed to be Christian, and in the latter case might either be naturally drawn to the universal truth of the Gospels or be unwilling to learn it; but to the Natives, of course, the religious practices of the English were just the barely-understood customs of a foreign tribe, with no relevance to the land, men or gods of Tsenacommoco, and Pocahontas’ own “conversion” was likely, from her perspective, merely the adding of her English husband’s god to her pantheon (Native spiritual practices having no provision for the ideas of “true” vs. “false” religion or monotheism).  Concomitantly they judged individual Natives’ morality based on their adherence to English Christian customs that the Natives neither understood nor had any reason to revere:  thus Pocahontas was esteemed the “nonpareil” of the Indians because, as a teenage girl with a pliable mind and heart and what seems to have been an anthropological curiosity about the English, she adapted easily to European society and dressed and acted as they thought she ought, while her brother-in-law Tomocomo was scorned as a subhuman “savage” because, as a man who was not brought up among the foreigners, he wore what would have been considered appropriate nobleman’s garb among his own people even when visiting London.  And of course the English famously “bought” land from Natives who had no concept of private property rights by inducing them to sign contracts they didn’t understand.  Finally, and relevantly to the point I made under (1) about violence, the English just assumed that Indians attacked colonists out of the reasonless perversity of naturally wicked “savages”, but that English attacks on Indians had specific motives that justified them.  So my question for you all is:  where, maybe, in your own thinking, might you be unknowingly limited by your own culture’s assumptions in judging the behavior of people from other cultures?  How can one detect and avoid these sorts of biases?  Or is it hopeless?  Keep in mind that if an example of ethnocentrism in modern American culture comes to your mind quickly and easily, it probably isn’t the best example, because the fact that you thought of it so easily indicates that you and likely many others have already questioned it.  Try to think of a bias that you have a harder time overcoming!

Welcome to the Spring 2023 Semester

Greetings from Dr. Bland and Dr. Stohr! We are excited to welcome you back to UR for the spring semester.

This blog will serve not only as a place to access assignment guidelines and course readings but also as a space to extend class discussions, share current news of interest, and further reflect on what it means to teach social studies using pedagogical approaches that encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Use the MENU to navigate to these course resources.

  • Hover over Assignments to find guidelines for the work of the semester.
  • Click on Readings and Videos to find links to weekly resources.
  • Click on Google Slides to find copies of slides from each class session.
  • Hover over Helpful Resources to find links to web sites and research guides.

Postcard History

A few months ago I subscribed to a site called Postcard History. It has some terrific images for students to explore the differences between the past and present. It also has some fascinating historical tidbits. For example, today’s article is about the kidnapping of a child in 1909. The writer of this piece has dug into the history and presented a great deal of information about the event. While this is a secondary source, they mention this story was all over the newspapers. It would be relatively easy to find useful primary sources to explore. I can imagine a story like this could be a springboard to discuss schooling, transportation, geography, and more. Here’s the postcard.

The caption reads:
Willie Whitla, Sharon, Pa., kidnapped March 18, 1909.  Returned to his parents March 22, after payment of $10,000 ransom.  Kidnappers arrested the day after in Cleveland, Ohio, and money recovered.”

Read more about this event in the article entitled Billy Whitla, Kidnapped Child.

Developmentally Appropriate Social Studies

When we met last week, Reid posed an important question about when it is appropriate to teach certain topics to students. After much searching, I found few clear answers to this question. There is, however, some very clear guidance on how and when to teach about the Holocaust. I have addressed this in a separate blog post.

NCSS has written a position statement on Early Childhood in the Social Studies Context. This statement does outline some of the ideas and concepts that are appropriate for young learners. By omission, we can assume there are some topics we should not be introducing to these students.

In regards to teaching children about war, you may find the following resources helpful.

Here are some resources specific to teaching about the war in Ukraine.

The Declaration of Independence

The National Archives has an interesting and informative blog entitled Pieces of History. In it, primary sources are regularly highlighted. Last year they wrote about the Dunlap Broadside printed on July 4, along with the real-time proceedings of that day inscribed in volume 3 of the Rough Journal of Congressional proceedings.

This year they wrote about the Binns engraving of the Declaration of Independence that was created in the surge of nationalism following the War of 1812.

You can learn more about the Declaration of Independence at America’s Founding Documents.

The National Archives also has a wealth of resources for Independence Day.

Teaching the Holocaust

How and when should we teach students about the Holocaust? Here are some answers to these questions with links to helpful resources.

Fundamentals of Teaching the Holocaust includes many helpful resources produced by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. This excerpt is from the page Age Appropriateness.

“Students in grades six and above demonstrate the ability to empathize with individual eyewitness accounts and to attempt to understand the complexities of Holocaust history, including the scope and scale of the events. While elementary age students are able to empathize with individual accounts, they often have difficulty placing them in a larger historical context.”

Teaching Young Children About the Holocaust (PDF book chapter) addresses the question of when and includes some teaching suggestions.

“… we don’t advocate that you teach about the Holocaust directly until 5th or
6th grade at the earliest. And, even then, we hope you’ll make accommodations by
teaching kids in those grades about the Holocaust’s more redemptive aspects
only—rescue, resistance, and stories that soften the harder blows of this history. We
think that the earliest young people ought to be taught about the Holocaust in depth is when they are older, when as a group, they are mature enough to be appropriately
staggered by its enormity and developed enough to discuss its implications.”

The KidsKonnect article Teaching Kids About the Holocaust: Why You Should and How explains clearly and in some depth why “knowing about the Holocaust can make children more resilient, empathic, and give them the capacity to contribute, over time, to a healthier and safer society. This is because the Holocaust teaches us some valuable lessons.” Those lessons include:

  1. It illustrates the need for tolerance, inclusion, empathy, and respect.
  2. It perfectly captures the dangers of hate speech.
  3. It provides reassurance and makes children resilient.
  4. Remembering and learning from the Holocaust is a form of respect toward the victims.

In Why Teach the History of the Holocaust–And How?, the Montreal Holocaust Museum does a fine job explaining the reasons it is important to teach the history of the Holocaust .

This undergraduate honors thesis entitled How Can We Teach About the Holocaust to Seven to Ten Year Olds? examines the impact of psychological perspectives in relation to this question (among LOTS of other ideas). If you have time, this is a paper worth reading.

The publication Recommendations for Teaching and Learning About the Holocaust, prepared by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), addresses many issues about Holocaust teaching, including what we should teach about it.

“Teaching and learning about the Holocaust will vary depending on national and local contexts. These contexts will inform decisions regarding which questions are explored more deeply and which are addressed more concisely. The time allocated for teaching about the Holocaust must, however, be sufficient for learners to be able to answer the following questions in significant rather than superficial ways:

    • What were the historical conditions and key stages in the process of this
    • Why and how did people participate or become complicit in these crimes?
    • How did Jews respond to persecution and mass murder?
    • Why and how did some people resist these crimes?”

Facing History & Ourselves has a wealth of resources for teaching the Holocaust.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a number of helpful Holocaust education resources.

Primary Source Assignment

It seems that we’ve been hampered by bugs and COVID in the last week. I’m sorry that we missed so many of you during our visit to the library Wednesday. We stayed much longer than expected but learned about so many amazing resources.

I have decided to make some changes to your primary source assignment to make it more manageable for all.

  • First, I’m going to integrate your primary source assignment into your digital toolbox. Instead of limiting your options to the WWII letters, you may choose any primary source(s) in the university collection that will enhance the study of content in your chosen grade level. This means you will need to add a page to your digital toolbox for this piece.
  • Second, you will not need to write a lesson plan for this component unless you choose to make this one of your two lesson options. I will let you make that decision.
  • Third, you will need to include digital images and descriptions for 2-3 items (at a minimum). Similar to other pieces in the toolbox, your narrative description should explain the connection to a particular SOL or set of SOLs and explain how you envision using the pieces.

I will include all of this updated information on the digital toolbox assignment page. I will also include links to the available UR resources.

Here is a link to the PPT we viewed during the session.

Here are links to some of the resources we learned about.

Welcome to the Summer 2022 Semester

I am excited to welcome you back for the summer semester. I’m especially happy to be working with all of you again.

This blog will serve as a place to extend class discussions, share current news of interest, and further reflect on what it means to teach social studies using pedagogical approaches that encourage critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Use the menu to navigate to course resources.

  • Hover over Assignments in the menu to find guidelines for the work of the semester.
  • Hover over Readings and Videos in the menu to find the assignments for each class session.
  • Click on Google Slides to find the notes from each class session.