Tuesday, December 30, 2008

BC or BCE, AD or CE

As we approach a new year I notice a trend that has begun to become more evident since I first recognized it a decade or so ago. That trend involves a redefining of the identification of years – from the traditional BC/AD to the more recent BCE/CE. It is a trend that has expanded from 'scholarly' works to textbooks to Wikipedia. I have begun to wonder about ‘why the changeover’, and what the long-range impact could be.

Traditionally BC has referred to the phrase ‘Before Christ’, while AD referred to Anno Domini (In the Year of our Lord). The AD phraseology was first consistently used by Victor, bishop of Tonnenna, a North African Chronicler of the 7th century who was the author of celebrated chronicle from the creation of the world to the end of the year 566.

From what I can find, the phrase common era was first extensively used in the late 19th century.
What ar:e some of the arguments for and against the change in the use of terminology?
From what I could gather in my brief review, the basic reason for change is not:
  • Increased accuracy – they are using the same year connotations

  • Elimination of Christian references – actually many times CE is referred to as Christian Era. In addition, I can't help but wonder how many times BC/AD is thought of today with religious connotations? Oddly, I did find a lot of anti-Christian bias involved with the various defenses of the changeover.
Actually, many of the reasons listed for a change that I could find weren’t really reasons or rationale.
From what I could ascertain from reviewing a number of resources, the attempted changeover is basically one of political correctness – the Gregorian calendar dates are used world-wide on a commercial/industrial basis. Because of that, the people advocating change do not want to offend anyone with the religious background that is tied in with BC/AD.
However, one or two observations: The current system has been in use for over 1400 years, starting a small local region and eventually – especially during the last two centuries – spreading world-wide with the advent of European colonization and exploration. I don’t really see too many references to BC/AD in normal usage, and in textbooks I tend to see many more BC references. While the Gregorian calendar is used world-wide, don’t localities and nations still use their local calendars for other than international commerce? The year 2009 on the Gregorian calendar is reflected differently in our cultural groups around the world. (Muslim: 1430; Chinese: 4707 – year of the ox; Hebrew: 5769 to give a few example). Local cultures celebrate with local calendars.
My last thought on this topic: If it ain’t broke, why fix it? I’m not sure political correctness is a good long-term reason for change, as political correctness changes its definition with the breeze. This might only cause more confusion in the future as historians try to come to terms with dating events in an ‘acceptable’ manner.
By the way, the grammatically correct sequence for BC, CE, and BCE is after the date, while AD should appear before the date (AD 2009).

Essential question: Is a changeover of dating systems significant in our field?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Questions About Textbook Adoption

An article came across my desktop that points to an event that is drawing closer for our District: finding textbooks that present unbiased material yet still meet the needs of our students as well as meets the new state standards. The article below summaries an original article opinion editorial by Tony Blankley, which is here.

Are Muslims Influencing Textbooks?
by Marcia Segelstein

Conservative columnist Tony Blankley writes about some disturbing information he came across while researching a new book about the distortion of history and religion in textbooks.

The Council on Islamic Education is the primary Islamic group that vets textbooks in the U.S. The head of that group calls his work a “bloodless revolution inside American junior high and high school classrooms.”

We’re not talking about being sensitive not to offend, or being inclusive in discussions about world religion. We’re talking about outright distortion.

As one of his sources of information, Blankley cites “The Trouble with Textbooks – Distorting History and Religion,” by Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra. In it, the authors draw attention to how Christianity and Judaism are presented quite differently compared to Islam.

In “Holt World History,” for example, students read that Moses “claimed to receive the Ten Commandments from God,” while “Mohammed simply ‘received’ the Koran from God.” Another textbook, “Pearson’s World Civilizations,” says that Jesus is “believed by Christians to be the Messiah,” while Muhammad “received revelations from Allah.” Another textbook, “McDougal Littell World Cultures and Geography,” says that “Judaism is a story of exile” and “Christians believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah.” But when it comes to Islam, there’s no question of stories or beliefs. It simply states that the Quran “is the collection of God’s revelations to Muhammad.”

Hardly equal treatment.

The book being reviewed, The Trouble With Textbooks - Distorting History and Religion by Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra (pub. Aug., 2008), does sound interesting, and seems to be receiving good reviews. I haven't found it in our public library yet, but perhaps one day...
We will have to be aware of many issues in picking a textbook for our students to use: political bias, gender bias, religious bias, political correctness bias, while keeping in mind the history and worldview of our country. It will not be an easy job.

Essential question: What evidence of 'unequal treatment' is currently evidenced in our District's textbooks?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

This is just a quick entry. The illustration on the left was the cover of Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863. Thomas Nast, the illustrator, ‘invented’ the image of Santa Claus that we follow down through today, almost a century and a half later. Nast’s image, along with Clement Moore’s 1822 A Visit from St. Nicholas (which is more popularly known today as Twas the Night Before Christmas) created the popular view of this jolly old elf that – by then – had been around for over 1500 years.

But, the whole story of Santa Claus can be traced back to St. Nicholas (b. circa 270 A.D.) – a Christian bishop who spent his adult life representing the true gift that God gave to mankind… Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem.

Take advantage of all of the gifts you receive this Christmas.

Essential question: What has been the effect of Jesus of Nazareth on Western culture?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Constitutional Convention Update

This is an update to my earlier blog about the possibility of a Constitutional Convention for Amending the Constitution:

As a quick review, the Ohio House of Representatives Judiciary Committee was considering a bill applying to the US Congress for a Constitutional Convention as defined in Article V of the US Constitution. If this legislation passes, Ohio would be the 33rd state to apply. When one more state applied, the US Congress would be required to call the Convention – something that was last done in 1787, resulting in the US Constitution.

The Ohio legislation was a joint resolution, proposed both in the House and Senate. The bill (see it here) proposed applying to Congress for a Constitutional Convention to provide a “balanced Federal Budget” amendment for the States to vote on.

On December 10th Ohio citizens testified concerning the bill. All of the testimonies were in opposition, and most of the speakers had not addressed a legislative committee before. All of the individuals represented conservative interests and raised enough questions in the minds of the House Judicial Committee that the committee did not approve the bill. You Tube (which is blocked in our District-that means you have to view these video clips at home) had a seven-part series chronicling the testamony. Here is Part I.

For more information on Article V and the concept of a Constitutional Constitution to propose Amendments, see a four-part video (approximately 10 minutes/part) on You Tube:
Part I Part II Part III Part IV

This video provides information about: 1) the plain language of Article V; 2) the historical precedent from our nation’s only Constitutional Convention; and 3) the consensus opinion from legal scholars, many of whom agree that an Article V convention creates an imminent peril to the well-established rights of the citizens and the duties of various levels of government.

A couple of pro-convention videos also found on You Tube:
Pro Convention Larry Sabato calls for Convention

Has the mainstream media picked up on this yet – or is this just a conservative concern? Essential question: Is a Constitutional Convention something that we need.... or not?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A New Constitutional Convention?

On December 10th of this year one of the ‘lists’ that I read had a comment on the fact that we were two states away from the US Congress being forced to call a Constitutional Convention in order to propose Amendments to the US Constitution – or what the current day lingo calls a Con Con. A vote was to be held by the Ohio legislature, which – if successful – would leave only one state left to apply for a Convention before that Convention became a reality.

At first the significance of this escaped me – as did finding much written literature on the subject. But, through perseverance, the following discoveries were made:

Article V of the Constitution provides for two methods of amending the Constitution. 1) The US Congress proposes, and 3/4th of the States have to approve the proposed amendment before it goes into effect; and 2) when 2/3rd of the States (34) apply to Congress for a Con Con. This latter method has never been used, and a number of questions arise about it.

While many of the applications for a Con Con have centered on creating an amendment for a balanced Federal budget, Article V does not limit what the Con Con – if called - could propose in the form of amendments. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote:

“I have also repeatedly given my opinion that there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey. After a convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the convention if we don't like its agenda. The meeting in 1787 ignored the limit placed by the confederation Congress "for the sole and express purpose."”
That is one of many questions that arise about a Con Con.

Some resources to enlighten the reader/listener:
-A number of concerns are summed up in a short You Tube presentation proportedly addressed to State legislators.
-One source did provide some interesting FAQ’s on a Con-Con.
-An article from the Daily Herald (Utah) concerning a Convention.

Things I don’t know, but would like to:

-How long is an application valid?
-What states have approved (and tried to rescind) their applications for a Con-Con?
-Why can’t a state rescind (as apparently some have done) their application?
-How often have the states neared the magic number for a Con Con occurred?
-What would a Con-Con really look like?
-Why isn’t this concept surfacing in the mainstream media?
-Why am I so clueless about this?

The Constitution Rights Foundation has an interesting lesson plan for the Convention process that could be used in the classroom.

Essential Question: What do you think would be the effects of a Constitutional Convention to provide amendments to the Constitution?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Digging Up - No, Make That Clicking Up - The Past

It is simply amazing what is on the Internet. I was looking for one thing – and found something else that brought back memories from the 1980s….

Click here for the St. Petersburg Times article from 1989!

In the 1980’s we devised a project for our World History students, which had them choosing a person from history, then researching (pre-Internet era) through a variety of resources for information concerning the person and the world they lived in. Clothing, religion, weapons, food – there were a whole bunch of categories, and the scrapbook encompassed both written and pictorial material. The project was a 9-week project, and was valuable enough that many former students still have the work they produced and keep it as a source of pride, reminding them what they accomplished. The project actually went county-wide, and eventually built up to where the ‘county winner’ was presented to the Board.

These projects were time-consuming to grade, but they certainly were interesting! Both students – and teacher – learned a lot!

I remember going to our public library one evening about 3 days before the project was due and found the place really hopping – every table had several students at it. I hung around for a while, helped some of the kids find resources, then got ready to go home. As I was getting ready to leave I heard one of the students say that the Xerox machine was broken. As I walked out the door I saw a police car pulling into the library parking lot.

The immediate vision that went through my mind was if possible headlines the next day: “Riot in the library after Xerox machine breaks!”

There was no riot, the police was simply doing the regular rounds, the kids got their work done – and the machine had simply run out of paper, which was quickly replenished.

It used to be that we were digging through the past. Now – with the Internet – we’re clicking through the past!
The picture? One my wife saved from the Chronicle.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A date which will live in infamy…

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

With these heart-rending words, Franklin D. Roosevelt led our nation into a conflict that would change the world. It was a war that would last – for the United States – almost 4 long and bloody years. It was a war that capped the traditional isolationist attitude of the nation (at least isolationist toward affairs outside of the American continents); and would propel the United Stated, and the world, into the atomic age. It was a war fought by the ‘greatest generation’, and perhaps the only war the United States has ever been involved in where the clear, overwhelming, and distinct majority of the population supported the war. It was a war that ended our Great Depression and – combined with that economic era – lead to a greater government role and power in the lives of Americans.

It was such a significant event that we, as a nation, remember it well. Right?

Unfortunately, as I walked through the checkout stand at Sweetbay, I asked the cashier if she know what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. She didn’t. I also was at WalMart… same response. I became a little irritated, so I just conducted an informal poll. My discovery: those over 50 – knew. Those under 25… a few knew, but basically no concept. One of my ‘favorite’ comments: “That was the day Kennedy was shot!” Another favorite comment: “I don’t like history!”

The in-between ages, mostly knew. While I had a small sampling, and this is in no way a bona-fide survey, the results are still distressing. I can’t help but wondering how much the passage of 67 years has softened the blow, and weakened the lessons learned from the attack on Pearl Harbor about what happens when a nation is unprepared and/or unwilling to deal with an enemy that seeks its destruction.

For a transcript and audio of the entire 'day of infamy' speech as well as a slideshow of the Pearl Harbor attack, click here.

Friday, December 5, 2008


After an intense 3-day discussion with Jennifer Sasser, our District's Math coordinator, I've come to the conclusion that I have mislabeled the initials representing our new Next Generation Sunshine State Standards - Social Studies!

I had labeled it NG5S. I have been informed that the proper mathematical statement is NGS to the 5th power, or NGS5. Now, if I can only figure out how to superscript the "5"!

Anyone with that many "s's" in her last name has to be right!

On another note, the DOE has posted the newly adopted NGS5 to their website. Look!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"If we don't know our history, we're history "

This article was written by a fellow Social Studies Supervisor, Jason Caros, of Volusia County. It makes interesting reading.

November 09, 2008
Daytona Beach News-Journal

If we don't know our history, we're history

Survey after survey, national test after national test indicate a striking ignorance of history by our younger generations. This is due, in part, to a trend in education during the 20th century that has disparaged and diminished the importance of academic "knowledge" in schools in favor of "process" oriented learning. Additionally, the nationwide assessment of certain skills and subjects in school such as reading, writing, math and, lately, science has further relegated the other core subject area of social studies to a secondary status, especially in the elementary grades (social studies in Florida includes civics, economics, geography and the mother subject, history). Every American should be concerned about this lack of historical knowledge as history is one of the main agents that binds our nation together and teaches us essential life lessons.
What is history? Too many people think of history as merely a story -- and it is often taught and received as a boring one at that. But history is so much more than a story and should be appreciated and learned by everyone. The French natural law philosopher Etienne Gilson said the following about the subject: "History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought."

This is an interesting way to speak about history, isn't it? A couple of words in the quote really stand out and appear more likely to be used in another setting, science. For instance, Gilson said history is a laboratory. Laboratories are places where experiments are held and where people with white lab coats and safety goggles work, right?

In science laboratories, items are tested, but in the history lab the focus of the test is ideas or thoughts, and the consequences of those ideas are the important discoveries. We should all be concerned with the consequences of thought because as one saying goes: "Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, and character becomes destiny."

Every time I ask people, including teachers, about the original meaning of the word history they typically say "history means 'his' story," or they will say it simply means "story." But if you look at the Greek root meaning of the word history, you might be surprised to learn it means "inquiry" or "investigation" and "knowledge." Did you know the Latin word for science also means investigation and knowledge? History and science are synonymous, at least in the original context of the words. Having this in mind, Gilson's quote makes more sense. History should not be boring or passive but instead an active exercise involving investigation and, ultimately, the acquisition of important knowledge that benefits individual lives and civilizations.

Generally speaking, history is one of the greatest teachers we have, but there are three specific points I would like to emphasize about its importance to us as a people. First, in Western societies, history has always been a main topic of study and has provided a springboard to the study of other subjects such as literature; it has also been a source for work on skills such as reading and writing. In terms of successful literacy development, history provides students with a wealth of conceptual knowledge that enables them to become good readers, and because reading is essential to overall academic success, history instruction should be at the top of educational priorities.

Reading requires knowledge of "words and the world" to borrow a phrase from educational researcher E.D. Hirsch, and there is no subject that does a better job of providing this type of knowledge than history. In our nation, we have major problems with literacy at the middle- and high-school levels, and this is due, in large part, to students' lack of knowledge, not the lack of reading skills. We do a very good job of teaching students how to learn to read in the early grades, but fall short in providing them with the important academic knowledge that enables them to read to learn later on. In order to read to learn, you need to have a rich vocabulary. For example, reading experts estimate that in order to understand what you are reading, you need to know approximately 90 percent of the words and concepts in a passage so you can figure out the other 10 percent you do not know. Subjects such as history help provide students with the vocabulary and contextual knowledge they need to become advanced readers.

A second benefit of the study of history lies in the connection between history and good character. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "The task of history is to hold out for condemnation every evil word and deed, and to hold out for praise every great and noble word and deed." Examples of strong character may or may not exist in a child's immediate environment or even in the memories of a parent but they do live on in the annals of history as suggested by Tacitus. In the history of our nation, we can see examples of virtue in the courage and sacrifice of the founders of this nation during the Revolutionary era, in the moral fortitude of the reformers of the Second Great Awakening, in the creativity and perseverance of the inventors, writers and scientists who helped make this nation great, and so on. Students can learn from and become motivated by great ideas and great actions and find in the heroic men and women of the past important role models.

One of the recent trends in education has been the rise of character education programs or courses in values, whatever values means. Supporters of these types of programs point to increasing incidents of violence in schools, a general lack of civility and a lack of civic participation by our youth. I submit we do not need classes in values but, instead, need good courses in history and literature (another excellent source of historical knowledge and lessons in human nature).

A final point about the importance of history pertains to our heritage -- history is the key transmitter of it. Our American heritage, and the inheritance of Western Civilization, is not passed on to us genetically. It must be learned and earned by each generation. Some of this passing on is done in the home, in churches and other institutions, but the main source for our historic memory comes from a formal study of history.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian philosopher and dissident during the Communist era of the Soviet Union, once warned, "If you wish to destroy a people, you must first sever them from their roots." In order to preserve the good and true elements of our culture, we must have a historic memory, we must work in earnest to safeguard our historic roots.

Caros is a K-12 social studies curriculum specialist for Volusia County Public Schools.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NG5S A Reality(?)

Ready for our five year mission? To go where no man has gone before?

I believe that now the word is official: The NGSSS-SS (Next Generation State Sunshine Standards - Social Studies) - or, as a shorter referral the NG5S - was approved by the State Board of Education at approximately 11:38 this morning. The Draft is here.

The reason I say 'I believe' is because I started watching a podcast of the State Board of Education meeting at about 9:30, and had to refresh the web cast every 5 - 7 minutes. Very frustrating. I heard them mention the "approved items", a brief comment by one of the board members recognizing the excellent work done by the DOE leadership team, the framers, and the writers, and bingo, they were on the next topic.

Hence, the 'I believe'.

So little air-time for such a huge topic.

Now our job starts.... Soon the complete standards will be posted on the web, so keep checking.