Each year in seventh-grade humanities, we struggle to make it to the end of the New York social studies curriculum. From September to June, we’re supposed to cover everything from the Bering Ice Bridge to Reconstruction. Having my fourth go at teaching humanities, I can tell you that it is just not possible. Not possible at all.
Why, you ask? Because humanities encompasses not just social studies, but English, too. Theoretically, everything we teach about English Language Arts should be taught through the content of social studies. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening should all be history based. And this is just not realistic, time-wise or interest-wise. We want to teach whole-class novels, we want to have students choosing their own independent reading books, and we want to have the flexibility to write about literature and the current world. Plus, we have a BIG STATE TEST to get ready for, a test that has nothing to do with history. We can’t spend five periods a week teaching history. So what do we do?
We cut. Every year, as we approach June and look back, we realize we have to cut. We’ve tapered down the Native American unit to one day. No joke. Westward expansion? What’s that? Next year, the explorers will have to hitch a ride to the New World with someone else because we’ve got to make it to the Civil War. By God, we WILL make it to the Civil War. We have to. I have to.
The school year is winding down, and the energy required to stay focused is immense – not only for me, but for the students, too. There’s a lot more chatter, a bit more attitude, and definitely a dearth of patience on my end. With six more days left, we just want it to be over. It should be over. And yet, it’s not.
The Founding Fathers have only just started writing the Constitution. There are still a bunch of articles to go. And ratification. My students will get a packet of reading and learn about the Civil War over the summer on their own. Sure, they learned it all in fourth grade, and they’ll learn it all again in high school.
But I’m still trying to get there. And next year, I swear, I will.