Saturday, November 06, 2004

Making a Community Interesting to Itself: Providing a Social Education through Urban History and Neighborhood Studies.

Making a Community Interesting to Itself: Providing a Social Education through Urban History and Neighborhood Studies. This is an interesting essay which gives tips and advice on how teach a community about itself with a focus on cities.

From the site:

The formal study of cities in American schools is a thing of the past. Urban studies courses, often accompanied by field experiences, have largely disappeared from the curriculum, especially in secondary schools. But, as is often the case with good ideas from the past, community studies and an urban focus are returning to the social studies. This digest reviews urban studies from a historical perspective. Then it offers some suggestions for educators anxious to reconsider the basic idea: using the story of the city, especially its neighborhoods and suburbs, as the basis for sustained investigation in social studies classes. In the process the city itself becomes a document, a primary source that students read as a text.


We live in the age of cities. It is estimated that in 2050 six billion of Earths nine billion people will live in metropolitan areas. For students, the best avenue to an urban awareness is the study of a particular city, usually the one nearby. And, to really know a city, a student must experience it firsthand. Book learning or virtual reality will not suffice, especially when we reflect on the deeper significance of education and ask a century old question: How can we make a community interesting to itself? The query is one that the sculptor Lorado Taft raised dozens of times in the early twentieth century. It is also an important question for educators who know that engaging the interest of their students is a prerequisite for effective teaching.

When framing an answer, we must keep in mind that the true test of a social studies education is what students do with their knowledge throughout their lives. In the decades of acute urban crisis in the United States, especially the 1960s and 1970s, scholars and educators paid a lot of attention to helping students connect with urban settings. Schools were to be a part of the battle to save Americas cities and to build strong local communities everywhere in the nation. Then a series of forces changed the direction of American education. The back to basics movement, with its increasing public insistence on academic standards, often narrowly focused on factual knowledge or academic skills; and the increasing detachment of schools from their communities, with the eclipse of the neighborhood school, turned the social studies toward reliance on basic textbooks. Field trips and study outside the school walls became less frequent in the 1980s and 1990s. Courses in urban studies, local history, and the built environment faded away, but never completely disappeared. Now, in the new century, old questions are being asked once again. How can we make a community interesting to itself? In which ways can schools best help their students prepare for a lifetime of learning? Why are cities so appealing? How should schools connect to their communities?

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