Is SUNY going to devalue the history program? | Voice


In my May 13 essay, “The Honesty and Balance Needed in Teaching History,” I wrote, “Considering the overall success of SUNY history offerings in our state, as evidenced by many positive student reviews of most of these courses I would remind SUNY leaders in Albany who want to drastically change SUNY history courses, or the way they are taught, must keep the adage in mind next: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “

Twenty-four years ago, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson led 500 students in a march around the Stanford University campus to protest the requirement for undergraduates to take a history lesson on Western civilization, which they denounced as Eurocentric and white indoctrination. The walkers chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho; Western culture must go.

Fast forward to 2021. A history advisory committee of the State University of New York (SUNY) posted on the Internet a 31-page SUNY GEAC report, “Proposed changes to SUNY gen ed,” which, among others, proposes “to decolonize the program and reduce the preference given to” western “communities. “

Elementary courses in the history of Western civilization would be removed from the core curriculum and offered only on an optional basis. Traditionally taught US history courses would be restructured into a “US historical and civic engagement” category. It appears that students would be allowed to complete the requirements of this category without actually taking a factual course in US history.

Although the proposed plan claims that changing the basic requirements “would prepare students for global citizenship” and promote “broad liberal education”, this plan would in fact recklessly remove world history from the basic curriculum.

The “US Historical and Civic Engagement” courses, similar to proposed modifications to other courses, would be redesigned to “articulate insightful ideas about personal cultural roles and biases, analyze their relationship with people of other origins. and be able to suspend judgments based on their own personal culture.

Is the committee leading the way in incorporating the controversial Critical Race Theory and similar “cancellation culture” doctrines into SUNY’s core curriculum?

SUNY System history teachers oppose the committee’s proposals because they would allow SUNY students to graduate with a lack of historical knowledge or with inaccurate perceptions of our past, and because the new curriculum would be a drag for students with a genuine interest in history.

The 100-level history courses in the SUNY system that would be removed from the core curriculum are the same courses that often motivate students to enroll in higher-level history courses.

When I attended Florida State University in the 1960s, all freshmen had to complete two semesters of Western Civilization History. Two semesters of postgraduate humanities courses that included philosophy, art, music, and other aspects of Western culture from Western civilization were also required. Such a program was common in most colleges.

My enjoyment of Western Civilization courses prompted me to choose History as an Academic Minor, which required me to take at least four history courses above the Level 100 Western Civilization course.

My undergraduate academic major for my bachelor’s degree was social work. To meet all the requirements for the Masters of Social Work, we had to complete a thesis or other individual research study on a topic related to the practice of social work. I was able to combine my interest in social work and history by writing a historical study on the treatment of the mentally ill in America.

After retiring after 25 years as a social worker at Canandaigua VA Medical Center, I graduated with a Masters in History at SUNY, Brockport, after which I taught history for many years at Finger Lakes Community College.

When I attended high school from 1959 until I graduated in 1963, we had to complete one year of ancient western civilization, one year of modern western civilization, one year of US history until ‘at the end of the Civil War and a year of U.S. history. history since the Civil War.

The decline in history classes at the college level comes at a time when the importance of history has also been reduced at the high school level. Students of the 21st century are at all levels of education less knowledgeable about US, European, and world history than students of the 20th century.

As for the Advisory Committee’s plan to “reduce the preference given to Western communities” in SUNY’s current program, let us not forget that Western civilization is an important foundation of religious traditions, government institutions, economic and social structures of America and many other aspects of American history and culture.

In his book “The Disuniting of America”, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., observed that “history belongs to the nation rather than memory belongs to the individual. Just as an individual deprived of memory becomes disoriented and lost, not knowing where he has been or where he is going, so a nation deprived of a conception of its past will be handicapped in the management of its present and its future. .

The recommendations of the SUNY History Advisory Committee, if implemented, will become part of the problem – rather than the solution – of declining history lessons in our education system.

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua taught US history at Finger Lakes Community College for many years. He is now retired. Several of his essays have appeared in The Livingston County News.

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