Friday, November 27, 2009

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – A lingering dispute over the teaching of Arkansas history has spilled over from academia to the halls of the state Capitol.

The Task Force on Arkansas History, created by legislation earlier this year, held its first meeting at the Capitol and set out its goals for the next year. They include improvements in teacher training in Arkansas history, as well as making modern texts and materials available for students at all age levels.

For the past couple of years, historians and educators have been at odds over how much emphasis to give the teaching of Arkansas history in public schools.

Historians have been outspoken in their concern that Arkansas history is not emphasized enough. To support their case they cite Act 787 of 1997, which requires schools to offer a unit of Arkansas history as a social studies subject in each elementary grade, with stronger emphasis in the fourth and fifth grades. Act 787 also requires schools to offer a full semester of Arkansas history between seventh and 12th grades.

Their concerns bubbled to the surface two years ago, when the state Board of Education adopted new guidelines for teaching social studies in elementary school. At the same time the Board required schools to offer world history in seventh and eighth grades, which had become the traditional years for students to take Arkansas history.

The historians went to the governor and held press conferences to voice concerns that Arkansas history would be squeezed out of the curriculum, which most people agree is packed to the rafters with required subjects.

Educators responded that their new guidelines, or frameworks, would allow elementary teachers to incorporate Arkansas history into a broader study of world affairs. An example is from the fifth grade Social Studies curriculum, in which students learn about the westward movement and migration across the American frontier. They also learn about the peoples who migrated into and out of Arkansas, and their reasons.

The Education Department has asked the state's leading historians to help devise lesson plans in Arkansas history. Last year the department and the Arkansas History Coalition jointly worked on a project to gather lesson plans from experts, and those whose work got accepted received $200 and recognition.

The newly created Task Force on Arkansas History has members representing the history coalition, public school parents, school administrators, Social Studies teachers, AETN, the Arkansas Historical Association, the state Historian and two state agencies - the Heritage Departments and the Parks and Tourism Department.

The Senate chairman of the Task Force said that some schools do well in teaching Arkansas history and some do poorly. The Task Force will help those that do poorly, she said, for example by making sure proper materials and lesson plans are available.

Alzheimer's Awareness

More than 1,200 Arkansan died of Alzheimer's Disease in 2006, almost double the number in 2000 who died of the same cause. Since 2000 about half the people who die of Alzheimer's lived out their final days in a nursing home; 23 percent were in a hospital and 20 percent were at home.

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. It is now the leading cause of dementia in the United States

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