Authentic vs. Inauthentic Education

Describe the difference between authentic integration of other subject areas into the history state and national standards. How does it differ from inauthentic integration?

The irony of this question is that it is one that doesn’t seem to be asked (or at least taken seriously) too often in many classrooms – or for that matter in the chambers where curriculum, standards, and assessment policy is created.

One of my very favorite quotes on education is from William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.” I think this is as good as any way to distinguish authentic and inauthentic. If we are merely “filling the pail,” we are educating inauthentically. On the other hand, with lessons which “light the fire,” we are teaching authentically.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say there are two levels to this. First, there is the way the lessons are taught. This is the basic stuff of being a “constructivist” educator, making meaning and showing the students how to make their own meaning. Authenticity is about making the lessons “real” and personally relevant, connecting them to other things in meaningful fashion.

Second, there is the subject matter. One of the struggles we have in many areas of education today is the relevance of what is being taught. From the previously discussed two forms of handwriting (aka the “cursive question”) to learning how to do math manually that can be done on any cell phone (and many watches) to teaching college prep material to non-college bound students, we have to wonder what authenticity there is for the students in these seemingly pointless (or at least wasteful) tasks? The challenge for our school structure here is to come to grips with what actually needs to be taught and why, thus re-truing to relevant, authentic material. The challenge for us as teachers, in the mean time, at the tactical end of this problem is to find authenticity in seemingly irrelevant material. This comes in two parts. First, we must find the intent of the curriculum designers and honor whatever piece this instruction is meant to be in the structure of overall knowledge. Second, we must find ways to relate this material to the students in spite of the burden of initial skepticism.

 

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Tolerance

How will you use your local community as a resource for teaching social studies? How will you generalize and connect what the students learned about their local community to the world community?

As has been discussed in prior classes, my community is small, with little by way of significant cultural or social resources. However, being adjacent to Los Angeles, we have many resources nearby. One resource I feel very strongly about is the Museum of Tolerance. This is an emotional stretch for 5th graders, but a valuable one. At this museum, the children will learn about intolerance and its devastating consequences. This museum is local, but its subject is often events far from California. Still, it has exhibits on “Segregation in California” and particular emphasis on the situation of hispanic immigrants. No doubt, for some of my students, this later subject is anything but hypothetical.

What I particularly love about this museum (in addition to the overall message) is the lesson that little injustices can balloon into very big ones, that every little prejudice is a tiny Holocaust and a potential building block for a tragedy. Finally I love that it helps us to see that we are all potential victims and victimizers, that self-reflection and sensitivity is a life long discipline.

There are many less weighty resources as well: community groups from nearby representing particular ethnicities, enthusiasts in particular subject matter (from Civil War reenactors to model plane builders to dance lovers) and museums of many varieties. Everything is local and global. We are unified by the human experience. The challenge for a teacher is to be alert for the themes that tie us to the global community (and them to us) and be quick to share those with our students.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Which themes and skills reflected in the national and state standards do you consider to be the most vital to teach? Explain why. In which discipline areas does this occur?
Given the list of Ten Themes of Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], n.d.), I would pick “Individual Development and Identity” as my highest priority.

My goal as a teacher is to both create relevance in the material to enhance learning and to concentrate my time with my students on material that will be of use in their lives.  While everything on the NCSS list is important, nothing will be as valuable as personal identity.  It is impossible to have stable, resilient self-efficacy in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Likewise, it is terribly hard to interact with other humans in community absent comfort with one’s own identity.  Finally, knowing what we do not know is central to both self-knowledge and effective learning.  By giving my students the tools to understand themselves, I am giving them the ability to withstand more easily many of the traumas of youth.  For example, it is not enough to know that Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences.  The power of that construct is in understanding that we are all differently gifted and appropriately so.  Knowing our own capacities and proclivities with regard to these intelligences is a wonderful gift that will buffer adolescent angst and clear the way for focus and optimal proficiency in life.

In addition, “Individual Development and Identity” is a wonderful place to begin learning the other nine Themes.  This theme’s description directly references two other themes (“Culture” and “Individuals, Groups, and Institutions”).  It also must cover “People, Places, and Environments” and “Time, Continuity, and Change” by way of creating perspective and context for self.  That is half the list right there.  If I only cover that, I feel like I have given my students an enormous advantage as they move forward with their lives.  If one of the main themes of my teaching is personal power, power to build a mindful, joyful, satisfying life, a strong sense of self and a strong sense of one’s relationship to time, space, people, and change is crucial and nearly sufficient to that goal.

References

National Council for the Social Studies. (n.d.). National curriculum standards for social studies: Chapter 2—the themes of social studies. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands