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Other opinions: Standards require instructions for teachers, too

What can the typical (above average, of course) Minnesota fourth-grader tell you about the economic, social and political transition of the United States before, during and after World War II? If that's too hard, then venture over to the state's ...

What can the typical (above average, of course) Minnesota fourth-grader tell you about the economic, social and political transition of the United States before, during and after World War II? If that's too hard, then venture over to the state's ninth- to 12th- classrooms and ask about the historical turning points that affected the spread and influence of Islamic civilization, including disputes that led to the split between Sunnis and Shi'ah from 600 to 1100 A.D.

If those questions seem challenging, they're supposed to be. They're part of the state educational standards mandated by the Legislature in 2004 after lawmakers tossed the old "Profile of Learning" graduation requirements. A political hot potato unloved by DFLers and Republicans alike, the Profile standards were criticized for placing too much emphasis on process and lacking in specificity.

Now, they're quite specific. Take "U.S. History Grades 4-8, Pre-history through 1607" in which "the student will demonstrate knowledge of European exploration of the North American continent and the resulting interaction with American Indian nations" -- a course of study that's not only focused but relevant to the diversity of Minnesota.

"The new standards have more to do with content," said Stanley Romanstein, the head of the Minnesota Humanities Commission in town for a teachers' seminar today on "The Great Gatsby and the Jazz Age" presented by his commission. The idea is to immerse teachers in required subjects on which they may need a refresher, and staying away from debates about the process of teaching.

So does it work? If teacher attendance is an indication, it does. "As soon as we announce a seminar in Duluth, we fill up," Romanstein said.

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Endorsing the seminars is Rex Hein, director of curriculum for Duluth Public Schools. "It's wonderful to write the standards but you have to provide knowledge base to teach them."

That includes the Great Gatsby -- and the Sunnis and Shi'ah from 600 to 1100 A.D.

-- Duluth News Tribune

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