As a history and sociology (dual) major, I did an internship last year that allowed me to observe high school history classes in Buffalo, NY. I observed classes including: Global 9, Global 10, U.S History, African American Studies, and the Holocaust. I compared these lectures with those of my college classes and noted the differences in topics and the way they were taught.
I wanted to explore several hypotheses as I observed classes:
1. Are the Buffalo Public Schools teaching history in a way that puts America in ONLY a positive light, meaning we omit certain areas of history?
2. Is high school, as an institution, preparing students socially for the real world, specifically higher education?
As part of this project I had the opportunity to interview high school students and teachers and ask them their opinions on what can be done to improve Buffalo Public High schools both academically and socially.
I found that after observing various classes, high school history classes did in fact present America in a positive light. I also found that teachers were teaching towards the test rather than providing an environment of critical thinking. On the social side of things I felt that high school students weren’t being prepared for college.
To expect high school students to become independent and critical thinking adults after being treated as the opposite for four years seems irrational. After interviewing the high school students, they felt history would be one of their hardest classes in college. The teachers I interviewed also stated that they did feel the curriculum was biased in the representation of America. They did not agree with teaching for the test but felt they had to in order to ensure students graduated.
My Experience Changed My Career Goals
After completing my observations, I decided my best opportunity to change these education issues is to pursue my Ph.D. and teach history at the college level. I thought perhaps I could write curriculum and change the way history was taught at the high school level but that would not change the social conditions. And if I became a principal I could change the social conditions but not the curriculum. This dilemma lead to my career change.
I know America isn’t the only country that omits certain areas of history, but I feel when you only focus on what makes your country look good, future generations won’t be able to understand the points of view of other people in the world. This type of tailored history leads to nuclear stand offs because everyone is only seeing things from their country’s perspective. I also feel the social environment Buffalo Public High Schools (with constant monitoring and detention) produces adults without the necessary skills to succeed in the demands of college.