Go Ahead, Teach Local

“Shop Local, Buy Local.”

These buzzwords (especially during this shopping season) show a growing desire to support local resources rather than to depend on national or international products.

Well, what about “Teach Local”?  Recently our staff met with our Educator Advisory Committee (teachers, principals, and curriculum specialists from local school districts) and the questions were raised:

  • “Why local?”
  • “Why use the local story to teach history in our social studies class?”
  • “Why go to the effort of preparing a lesson using local history resources when national/state resources are more readily available?”

As a local history museum wanting to connect with teachers and get our resources in the classroom, these questions are not only pertinent, they probe the very core of what we do.

Goodyear company town, developed during World War I to produce cotton to aid in the war effort. An example of a local story with national ties.

We all know there is power in local history, but how do we convey this power to teachers?  How do we assure them that the local story can enhance their curriculum?  Teachers, bound by state and national standards, seem to have less and less wiggle room in the content they cover in the classroom.  Many schools have abandoned local history for state history, usually taught in fourth grade.

And what’s the primary reason for this? Statewide testing.  If students learn state history, rather than local history, they can all be tested on the same material. Due to these national trends in school content, museums play an increasingly crucial role in educating the community about the local past.

As I ponder this “Why Local?” question, recent discussions about museum education’s foundation and its relationship to formal education have added to the conversation.

Ben Garcia’s article, “What We Do Best” in the Journal of Museum Education (Summer 2012), raises the concern that museums work too hard to fit their resources into formal education’s format and curriculum standards.  Garcia argues that museum learning has its own strengths. It should stand independently, rather than adapt to formal education’s definition of a learning experience.

In light of this, how can we show that our resources and methods are worthwhile? How do we convince teachers: “Go ahead, teach local”?

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The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is a national association that provides leadership and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people.

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