I just had this project idea that I have to get out before I loose it. Also, since I currently am not in a position to use this idea I present it here for you to take and use in your own classroom should it work in your situation.
The idea stems out of the ongoing debate about standards in education. The thought occurred to me that had we written school curriculum standards 100 or more years ago that they would look very different than they do today. For one, they would not reflect scientific or technological progresses we have had since then but they would also reflect values of that era. What they would choose to standardize would be a reflection of the values shared by those who had the power to establish these standards. Then, if those standards had been as rigorously upheld and reinforced as they are today, how would our world today look? Would it be different, would it keep us stuck in the past, would schools be seen as completely irrelevant?
So, the project is as follows:
1. Have students study in-depth a specific period of time in US or world history.
- Identify what was known about the world scientifically
- Identify how people did math and examine if there are any differences
- Identify what kinds of literature people had access to and were commonly read
- Identify what forms of communication people used (verbal, print, telephone, etc.)
- Identify how people traveled.
- Identify major forces effecting peoples values and identify what those values were.
- Identify other subject areas that people of that era would have considered important enough to have a separate category or a special place in school.
- Identify what things people would have thought essential for everyone to know.
- Identify what things people regarded as absolute fact.
- Identify what things people in charge would insist everyone be exposed to in school.
4. Then, extrapolate from there, imaging how the world would change if these were imposed as ultimate truths that cannot change. What would happen to the education system and what would happen to the society. Discuss whether this would be a good thing or bad thing.
I can see this project being so powerful on so many levels. It engages students in thinking outside themselves and forces them to try and think like a person from the past. For this to work students have to learn more than just factual history of an era but understand the realities, the power structure, the ideologies, the politics, and the climate of that point and place in time. It would engage them heavily in the ultimate interdisciplinary lesson since they would have to also learn about that which they are writing standards for. I am bummed I don't teach government, history, or civics because I would very much like to do this with a group of students. But then, that probably would never happen anyway. Such a project probably wouldn't properly address the standards.