ERIC Identifier: ED264166
Publication Date: 1985-11-00
Author: Remy, Richard C. - Woyach, Robert B.
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Boulder CO.
Strengthening High School World Studies Courses. ERIC Digest
The only formal instruction about the world that the vast majority of
American high school students receive comes in a single social studies course
typically offered at the tenth grade. Increased attention and debate has been
focused on this vitally important curriculum opportunity in recent years.
WHAT CHALLENGES FACE EDUCATIONAL LEADERS AS THEY ATTEMPT TO STRENGTHEN THEIR
WORLD STUDIES COURSES?
In recent years, a growing number of states have mandated new courses in
"world history" or "world civilizations." Requiring new world studies courses,
however, created a significant challenge for many schools. Curriculum changes a
decade ago led many schools to eliminate the traditional world history
requirement. Student enrollments in subsequent elective world studies courses
were often low. As a result, the normal process of course improvement was often
disrupted. Faculty with experience in teaching world studies declined.
Even in school systems that retained a world studies requirement, new demands
for excellence brought nagging issues to the forefront. An NEH-sponsored report
on the status of history characterized the world history course as "poorly
taught, not well received by students, and confined to the unimaginative
exposition of far too much data" (Alder and Downey l985).
Demands for new or improved high school world studies courses pose a
complicated set of challenges for the schools:
--There is no agreed-upon approach to teaching "world studies." Traditional
conceptions of a narrowly Euro-centric world history seem inadequate. Yet newer
conceptions of global history or global relations can seem vague and
--There is no mechanism for educational leaders to identify and assess
successful practices. Experimentation with new approaches to world studies
courses is occurring in many schools. Yet, new course improvements efforts
routinely begin with a tabula rasa or a haphazard sampling of what has been done
--There is a critical need to help teachers and administrators enhance their
capacity to teach world studies. The average world studies teacher has been
trained only in traditional, Euro-centric approaches to the course. Depending on
university offerings and requirements, many new teachers will not have taken a
world history survey course since high school!
WHAT DID THE WINGSPREAD CONFERENCE ON STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL WORLD STUDIES
COURSES TRY TO ACCOMPLISH?
In September l984, the Mershon Center of the Ohio State University and Global
Perspectives in Education, Inc., brought 38 leading historians, political
scientists, administrators, teachers, and other professional educators together
at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. The conference,
"Strengthening High School World Studies Courses," was supported by grants from
the Danforth and Johnson Foundations. It was co-sponsored by ten major
professional organizations (Remy and Woyach l984).
The goal was to lay a conceptual and organizational foundation for future
efforts to help local schools strengthen their world studies courses and
curricula. Specifically, conference participants were to:
--Identify and explore major challenges facing high school world studies
--Weigh and debate possible strategies and opportunities for addressing these
--Discuss the role of scholars, colleges and universities, educational
administrators, and professional associations in helping schools strengthen
their world studies courses
The conference and the long-term effort it began are not designed to promote
a particular course of study or approach to world studies. Rather, the goal is
to consider how examples of successful practices and the most current
scholarship in history and international studies can be used to help teachers
and local administrators strengthen their courses.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP EDUCATORS STRENGTHEN THEIR WORLD STUDIES COURSES?
Participants at the Wingspread conference identified and debated various
strategies for responding to the challenges schools face. The following four
activities which emerged from these discussions have received special attention.
Handbook on Alternative Approaches
A handbook outlining and analyzing alternative conceptual approaches to high
school world studies courses received wide endorsement in conference
A number of conceptual approaches to world studies courses represent
academically sound frameworks for organizing the subject matter of world
studies. At the same time, each approach accomplishes different goals and has
different strengths and weaknesses. A handbook on contending approaches could
outline and differentiate major approaches (for example, Western civilization,
global history, world geography, world cultures, global issues, international
relations) to the course. Each approach could be analyzed in terms of
pedagogical strengths and potential pitfalls. Basic topical frameworks which
faithfully implement each approach could be outlined.
Such a handbook could help local curriculum design committees, textbook
adoption committees, curriculum supervisors, and local school boards make more
systematic and informed decisions about goals, organization, and content of
their world studies courses.
Collection of Syllabi
Conference participants expressed nearly unanimous endorsement of the idea of
collecting and making readily available syllabi or other appropriate
descriptions of world studies courses being taught in high schools across the
A collection of syllabi could be profitably used by teachers and curriculum
administrators in several ways. First, it could help with short-term curriculum
planning in school districts that must quickly implement a newly required world
studies course. Second, collected syllabi could allow teachers to compare what
they teach with the practices of their peers across the country. Such
comparisons are one key component of any effort at self-assessment and
self-improvement. Third, a collection of syllabi could facilitate local
curriculum development by providing ideas from a larger spectrum of
possibilities. Finally, collected syllabi might be used in a variety of ways to
strengthen preservice teacher education courses.
Resources for Developing a Global Relations Course
Special resources are needed to help schools that wish to develop or improve
existing global or international relations courses. Such courses are frequently
offered as electives. In some cases they serve as an alternative to the more
familiar world history course. Across the nation, such courses have attracted
increasing attention and interest.
Yet teachers interested in developing or teaching a global relations course
face a formidable obstacle. They have no textbook or similiar set of accessible
and integrated student materials. Thus, teachers do not have an opportunity to
see what a global relations course might include. They have no core of factual
information for students around which a course can be readily built.
The development of model student materials would enable teachers, curriculum
committees, school board members, parents, and students to see and assess a
global relations course. Such materials should be prepared by experienced
curriculum developers working closely wih teachers, students, international
relations scholars, and historians. They should be designed to fit the needs of
average teachers and students. The materials would not represent "the correct
approach" to the subject matter; but they would provide a credible approach
suitable for high school students. The model could then compete in the
marketplace of curriculum ideas along with other approaches to world studies.
Leadership Training and Teacher Preparation
The need to strengthen preservice programs and inservice opportunities for
world studies teachers was a clear priority for many participants at the
Wingspread conference. Conference participants agreed on the need for
prospective world studies teachers to take "core courses" in world studies. Such
core courses should include, but may not be limited to, a global history survey.
A number of participants also favored increasing the total number of required
credit hours in world studies. Preservice programs, even at prestigious
institutions, require only about half the credit hours for teaching
certification that are required of academic majors.
In the area of leadership and staff development, conference discussions
focused on strategies for leadership training. Regional training programs
designed to help local staff developers upgrade their skills and knowledge base
were suggested. Also considered were training programs designed to assist
curriculum committees in planning and initiating change efforts.
HAVE EFFORTS TO DEVELOP THESE RESOURCES BEGUN?
The co-conveners of the Wingspread conference have initiated two projects
which implement key conference recommendations.
The HANDBOOK Project
With funding from the Danforth Foundation, the Mershon Center is currently
developing a HANDBOOK ON ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO THE HIGH SCHOOL WORLD STUDIES
COURSE. The handbook will provide a conceptual road map for teachers and
curriculum policymakers faced with deciding the direction to take in their world
The heart of the handbook will be a series of five major approaches to the
course (for example, global history, Western civilization, world cultures, world
geography, and global relations). Prepared by respected scholars from a variety
of disciplines, each chapter will contain:
--A rationale for the approach described
--An analysis of key concepts and ideas highlighted and excluded by the
--An annotated bibliography
--Exemplary syllabi which illustrate the approach in terms of classroom
An introductory chapter will present criteria for judging any approach to
world studies. It will also discuss articulation of the course with other
courses in the high school social studies sequence. A final chapter will outline
a teacher-based assessment strategy which can be used by school districts to
evaluate their courses.
The SCAN Project
Global Perspectives in Education, Inc. (GPE) is developing a computerized
resource system. Among other things, the System for Communication and Networking
(SCAN) will include syllabi, bibliographies, and exemplary teaching materials
for high school world studies courses. GPE has already begun the collection,
review, and cataloging of syllabi and materials. Each item included in the
system is assessed in terms of its practicality and its value to global
When fully developed, SCAN will enable system members to locate and retrieve
materials directly via a computer and modem. This will decentralize the system,
giving schools and school districts far greater access to SCAN materials.
For information about these two projects, contact the Mershon Center or
Global Perspectives in Education.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alder, Douglas D., and Matthew T. Downey. "Problem Areas in the History
Curriculum." In HISTORY IN THE SCHOOLS, Bulletin 74, edited by Matthew T.
Downey. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, l985.
Barraclough, Geoffrey. MAIN TRENDS IN HISTORY. New York: Holmes and Meier,
Leinwand, Gerald. TEACHING OF WORLD HISTORY, Bulletin 54. Washington, DC:
National Council for the Social Studies, l978. ED 151 268.
McNeill, William. "World History in the Schools." In NEW MOVEMENTS IN THE
STUDY AND TEACHING OF HISTORY, edited by Martin Ballard. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press, l970.
Remy, Richard C., and Robert B. Woyach. STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL WORLD
STUDIES COURSES. A Wingspread Conference Report. Columbus, OH: Mershon Center,
Rosenzweig, Linda W. "Urban Life and World History: Can Social History Bridge
the Gap?" SOCIAL EDUCATION 46 (March l982):l86-90.
Schrier, Arnold. "World History as Historical Survey." SOCIAL EDUCATION 39
Thompson, John M. "Teaching World History in the l980's." TODAY'S EDUCATION:
SOCIAL STUDIES EDITION 69 (April-May l980):44-46.
Vigliani, Alice. SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY IN ANTHROPOLOGY AND WORLD HISTORY
RESOURCES. Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium and ERIC
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, l977. ED 148 654.