Kinnikinnick's new social studies curriculum encourages students to “think like historians"


Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)

Teachers in the Kinnikinnick school district weren't satisfied with the social studies curriculum and textbooks they were using. Since social studies isn't included in the standardized tests required in Illinois, these subjects can be neglected in a busy school year. Mimi Bannon, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Kinnikinnick CCSD #131, says they wanted their new curriculum to encourage students to " think critically, draw conclusions, and support those conclusions with evidence—the same skills they’ll use in college and throughout their careers." Bannon has been with the district for 33 years.

To come up with curriculum recommendations, a Social Studies Committee met twice a month last year. They used Illinois standards as a roadmap, looking for an "inquiry based learning" approach that converts information into useful knowledge.

In the end, Bannon says, "We chose Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Social Studies which is a program that is aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards. The program... encourages students to 'think like historians.'" The new curriculum investment covers kindergarten through 8th grade.

The biggest shift affects Roscoe Middle School students. Bannon told the school board in May, "We decided we will only be spending one year in World Civilization and two years on American History." She added, "U.S. History is enormous and we feel we weren't doing it justice" since the previous curriculum stopped with World War I "and a lot has happened since them," she laughs. The district also wanted to expand the study of the U.S. Constitution, teaching about the balance between what society needs and individual rights to freedom.

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Bannon, who received a 2004 Golden Apple Award as a Stone Creek Elementary School teacher, said the new History curriculum is "more of a questioning kind of presentation of the material." Students learn that the Holocaust happened, it was in Nazi Germany, they know about Hitler. "Then a question might come up from a student, 'Well, why didn't anybody stop it?'"

In Civics, Kinnikinnick students learn what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society, such as voting and serving on a jury. Geography helps them see their own place in the world. They learn financial and economic literacy: how resources are allocated and the difference between needs and wants. Bannon said they learn to ask, "Do I have enough money, do I need to save?" and they learn that "not everything falls from the sky for us."

The State of Illinois specifies that students learn about the historically marginalized. Bannon said, "We look at this through the lens of the Constitution and human rights..." Asked if the new curriculum teaches “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), Bannon told us that since it is not a standard, it is not referenced in the Illinois State Standards or in the district curriculum.

One of the many topics the Illinois Legislature does require is that students learn about "the events of Black History, including the history of the African slave trade, slavery in America, and the vestiges of slavery in this country." That includes "the socioeconomic struggle which African-Americans experienced collectively in striving to achieve fair and equal treatment under the laws of this nation."

The legislature also says that, before they can get their high school diploma, students must pass examinations on "American patriotism and the principles of representative government,... and the proper use and display of the American flag." Public Act 096-0099 requires all grade 7 students and all high school history students to view the free  Congressional Medal of Honor film "In Their Own Words 2019."

Student must also study "the forceful removal and illegal deportation of Mexican-American U.S. citizens during the Great Depression" and "the role of labor unions and their interaction with government in achieving the goals of a mixed free enterprise system."

Bannon told Rockton-Roscoe News that the Kinnikinnick District Philosophy on social studies is "the perfect explanation of what energizes us when it comes to teaching our students about their place in the community, country, and world."

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Roscoe Middle School spends two years on American History, not World History.

Kinnikinnick District Philosophy

“The Kinnikinnick School District believes it is essential that our students are aware of their ever-changing world and equipped to understand, function, and thrive in it. Through the lens of inquiry, students will explore the themes of history, geography, financial economic literacy, and citizenship. Students will gain the tools and the curiosity needed to successfully navigate through an increasingly complex multidimensional environment.

The social studies curriculum allows for students to build upon previous knowledge and helps them identify and understand connections through the development of their ability to think critically and to ask and answer compelling questions. As participating members of a democratic society, students must also learn to use reasoning, evidence and good judgment when forming their opinions and understand the importance of being respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions even when they differ from their own.

The social studies curriculum is designed to meet the high standards of the Kinnikinnick District as well as the goals and standards established by the State of Illinois. By acquiring an appreciation and understanding of our world, students will develop the ideals of honesty, integrity and responsibility within their family, community, and country.”

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