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Get Schools to Teach Outside the Textbook

Liz Dwyer

Chances are your middle and high school teachers taught what's in the textbook: Christopher Columbus, early American settlers, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, the Depression, and World War II. But what about the other historical events that have shaped America, like Seneca Falls, the Red Summer of 1919, Harvey Milk's political career and assassination, and our long history of environmental activism?

Schools won't teach this unless we ask for it (and help them do it.) To get a school/teacher you know started, send them to the Zinn Education Project, which offers more than 100 free, downloadable teaching activities for middle and high school classrooms. They also list hundreds of recommended books, films, and provide links to other websites that can help schools teach outside the textbook.

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  • Justin Wallace

    Having been given A People's History to read by my teacher in 11th grade, I can really appreciate Zinn's message. Though I had never seen this site before, it is great!

  • Jim Hartsell

    From a different perspective -
    When I saw "Teach outside the textbook", I thought immediately of my years in the classroom. I had what I consider my greatest successes when we were able to rekindle the curiosity spark that the traditional curriculum tends to smother. That meant closing the textbook and doing activities that the students thought were just games, but actually required some pretty high level thinking on their part. Once they began to remember how to ask questions and look for (sometimes not at all obvious) connections among the pieces of information they were gathering, the pleasure of discovery became rewarding in its own right. Administrators and other educators who happened by were amazed. By the way, these were "special needs" teenagers who weren't supposed to be able to do what they were doing.
    The only thing I did was open the door. I didn't tell them they had to think; I just tried not to get in the way. They took care of the rest.
    I was very fortunate to have administrators in the different settings where I worked who allowed me to do this. It wasn't exactly part of the curriculum, and any one of them could have shut me down. The fact that they didn't speaks well for them.

  • stella.scandali

    I moved to Greece with my daughter two years ago and am glad to finally find such a site to help my daughter not only keep up with her American history, but go beyond what is taught in American schools. I have always wanted her to learn more than what is taught and for her to become a critical thinker for herself as she grows into an adult, civic minded, active woman.

  • missnelson

    i have said for years, that except for literature books, texts are merely reference books. they are usually out of date before they even get to the classroom. it's not that schools don't teach, a building doesn't teach, teachers teach. i taught in a big district, middle school, inner city and how a teacher does not realize that the history of the students taught is different than the white experience or even white history. we have become a global community, are students are diverse, and all cultures should be taught. standards are not black or white or asian or hispanic or spanish or latino, but our students are. the internet is a great tool for diversifying learning to individual cultures, meeting the standards and sharing. a win-win situation all around.

    btw cyril, i'm white and jewish and i always told my students that jesus was black. how could he not be?

  • Cyril B. Saulny

    Schools won't teach that George Washington was not the first President of the United States, but the ninth one. Schools won't teach that George Washington did not in fact chop down a cherry tree, it was just a fictitious story. Schools won't teach that Christopher Columbus did not discover anything, native Americans were already here. Schools won't teach that the first sixteen Kentucky Derby's were won by BLACK jockeys. Schools won't teach that slaves in South Carolina mastered the game of golf. Schools won't teach about the contributions "people of color" made in the Civil War, they were highly decorated officers. Schools won't teach . . .

    • Randon Knighten

      Of course not. The student system is not designed to empower children of color. In regards to CC: Most Native American tribes descended from a migrant group of North Africans (Black pilgrims) that came to colonize the New World hundreds of years before Columbus set sail. Mexicans had also traveled North before Spanish conquistadors.

    • Liz Dwyer

      Exactly, Cyril. And if we don't demand that these things are taught, they won't be unless a teacher decides to take individual initiative. Thank goodness for those that do this already. However, about those presidents, I believe they were the Continental Congress presidents--14 of them--and it was a fairly ceremonial role, so Washington really was the first real POTUS.

      • Cyril B. Saulny

        I won't debate "real!" But yes, Washington was the first under the new US Constitution. Still, we can not discredit the fact that there were others before him, and that one of them was known to having been a Moor. Still, it is not being taught! A great teaching opportunity to expose the differences of the times prior to the making of America.

        • missnelson

          there is no "new constitution", there is only ONE constitution and it was ratified by the states. the articles of confederation were not the constitution. america did not become the united states of america until the constitution we have today was ratified. the revolutionary war gave us our freedom from europe, the constitution gave us a unified government.

          let me ask you to educate me. what did the moor do and why was he important?

          i hate to say this, and will probably get flamed, but your knowledge or the ability to put history in perspective is woefully poor.

        • Liz Dwyer

          LOL, I'm cool with leaving the "realness" debate behind us! I absolutely agree that great teaching is teaching all of this history instead of bits and pieces. Thanks for commenting and being an advocate for this, Cyril.

          • Randon Knighten

            Blessings to you both for intellectual commentary. Peace.