Clearing out: 5th grade U.S. history, part 1

I’ve cleaned out 30 years of stored papers, and this is one of a series of posts about things I found therein.

Long ago, a 5th-grade teacher took the PTB seriously when they said they wanted students who could think critically (as if), so she and I sat down to redesign the approach to the social studies curriculum, which at the time was U.S. history, 1860–present (as if).

One of the elements we had to deal with at the time was the Quality Core Curriculum [QCC], which was (in the words of the task force that junked it for the Georgia Performance Standards) “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Every area of the curriculum was just jam-packed with content standards.  We were tasked with teaching ALL THE THINGS, KENNETH.

For example, here are the 20 standards we were looking at:


  1. Explains duties/responsibilities of branches of govt
  2. Explains individual rights, common good, self-govt, cultural awareness
  3. How citizens affect change: voting, campaigns, petitions, org. protests, running for office
  4. Economic interdependence: producing, consuming, exchanging, investing, specializing
  5. Production: who decides, what factors, how distributed?
  6. Civil War
  7. Economic/social change late 19th c.: monopolies, transp., migration, immigration
  8. Compare life: African-American, Asian, Hispanic, European
  9. American West, late 19th c.: miners/prospectors, ranchers/farmers, railroad workers
  10. Changes re: Indians: encroachment, relocations, govt policies
  11. Socio- politico- economic changes: Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson: 16-19 amendments; child labor, unions
  12. Causes of WWI: nationalism, militarism, imperialism
  13. 1920s: steel, home ownership, auto, sports, electricity
  14. Great Depression: cause/effects
  15. WWII
  16. GA & US during WWII: suburbs, mobilization, technology
  17. since WWII: UN, Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, USSR
  18. GA & US since WWII: civil rights, immigration, women, technology, gangs (what??)
  19. Culture: art, music, literature: 20s, Harlem/Big Band, rock, art
  20. Primary sources: biases, maps, etc

I mean to say, what?  Looking back over this, I can only imagine the minefield this material would constitute today.  No wonder Betsy Devos and her ilk are so opposed to “government schools” indoctrinating their children.  Who would vote for the Current Occupant who had even two-thirds a grasp on this material?

All right.  Back then, we were being told that students learned through direct engagement with the material.  Crazy talk!

Here’s what we came up with. Rather than slog through the timeline year after year and try to snag all the socio-politico-economic ideas along the way, let’s focus on four major themes: Conflict, Power, Change, and Community.[1]  Spend nine weeks on each theme.  Focus students on constructing knowledge about each theme, using U.S. history as a frame on which to hang the ideas.

Wait, what?  Not teach ALL THE THINGS??

Exactly.  Remember the motto of the Curriculum Liberation Front:

The idea was that if the students were engaged, working their little behinds off on finding out what war looked like and felt like, 1860-1975, they would actually tumble to the THINGS as we went along because they would actually have the context to understand and be curious about the THINGS.[2]

But, Dale, how can you be sure that you’ve covered all the standards?  If you’re doing all this fuzzy research/critical thinking skills, how will they ever learn about Pickett’s Charge?

That was a legitimate concern, and so I did a chart of all four themes and how they might reflect each standard.

Would you look at that?  Not only would we cover all twenty standards, we would hit all of them more than once.

NEXT: What would this have looked like?[3]


[1] We’ll look at each of these in the next post.

[2] For a quick post on the issue of context, see here. (From the very early days of this blog, when I wrote a lot about curriculum.)

[3] Spoiler alert: we never got to implement this plan.

2 thoughts on “Clearing out: 5th grade U.S. history, part 1

  1. I just dug my old Curriculum Liberation Front out of a box and had a cup of tea in it. I have bought it years ago for my late husband, Grant Wiggins, who also loved it.

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