Meg Honey, Humanities Curriculum Specialist, Savvas Learning Co

Meg Honey (she/her) is a Humanities Curriculum Specialist with Savvas Learning Company (formerly Pearson K12 Learning) and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She taught middle school and high school Social Studies for sixteen years and currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Saint Mary’s College of California and at the University of the Pacific. Meg is a regular moderator of the regional Newsmakers Speaker Series and has been featured in conversation with David McCullough, Martin Luther King III, Michael Beschloss, and Abby Wambach. Meg is a dynamic and award-winning teacher who is deeply committed to cultivating inclusive learning communities, and she has written and presented extensively about LGBTQIA+ history, culturally responsive education, and Social-Emotional Learning. Meg earned a Master’s Degree in United States History at San Jose State University, is a certified educational trainer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was Mount Diablo Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2017.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” (Freire, 2000, p.34). 

As school district leaders determine a course of action for the 2020-2021 academic year, their focus must shift from “if we reopen” to “how we will reopen,” particularly in relation to Humanities curriculum. Now more than ever, the humanities provide students with vital understandings, critical thinking skill development, and an appreciation for both shared experiences and unique perspectives. This specific moment allows educators to radically reconsider and redesign learning experiences for their students. Curriculum must present rich, engaging, and accessible content as well as an emphasis on important, humanizing elements. In a new era of distance learning, inclusivity, culturally responsive practices, social emotional development, and accessibility must be the foundational and guiding forces of humanities curriculum.

Inclusivity

As students across the world are learning remotely, it is absolutely vital that their curriculum elevates the experiences and perspectives of diverse groups. In order for students to have a complex understanding of historic events and contemporary challenges, content must include the social, economic, and political contributions of many individuals and allow for vital “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” representative learning experiences. (Smith, JOCL; 1997)

Questions to consider in selecting Humanities curriculum:

-Does the curriculum include stories, images, and sources that provide students with multi-faceted, inclusive learning experiences?

-Are groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in curriculum (indigenous communities, LGBTQIA+ people, members of the disability community, and others) present in accurate and respectful ways?

Culturally Responsive Practices

A culturally responsive learning community centers the experiences of students. Curriculum must include in-depth examinations of people and events that allow for students to connect their own lives to the academic content being studied. In addition, it is imperative that curriculum provides strategies and resources to support teachers in elevating their students’ identities, cultures, and experiences as assets for powerful educational moments. 

Questions to consider in selecting Humanities curriculum:

-How does the curriculum and supporting resources help center the diverse expressions and experiences of students?

-Are there strategies present to help teachers affirm and sustain their students’ unique backgrounds and communities of origin? 

Social-Emotional Development

Social Emotional Learning is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (http://casel.org).” Curriculum should provide tools for educators to create learning opportunities that deepen students’ content knowledge AND connect them to the five competencies of Social Emotional Learning: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making.

Questions to consider in selecting Humanities curriculum:

– How does the curriculum help students develop healthy connections to others, particularly during distance learning?

-Does the curriculum provide strategies for teachers to support students in understanding how decisions can shape significant outcomes?

-Where and how does the curriculum provide strategies, tools, and lessons to help students set goals and take ownership of their learning? 

Accessibility

In our current reality of distance learning, issues of accessibility have emerged front and center. The digital divide has become glaring apparent, and many English Language Learners and students with disabilities have struggled in the new remote delivery paradigm. As educational leaders carefully consider curriculum for the upcoming school year, meeting the unique learning needs of all students must guide decision making. Humanities curriculum should offer multiple points of entry: compelling images with alternative text, infographics, scaffolded primary sources to support analysis, guided reading questions, and multiple forms of assessment. In addition, flexible options for learning should be present. Recognizing that many parents and caregivers are now facilitating learning experiences underscores the vital need for curriculum to include pacing guides, calendars, and detailed lesson suggestions. For the many students who are navigating remote learning without support, options for deepening content knowledge should include videos, interactive learning experiences, online discussion boards, and text materials that are engaging, clear, and learning level appropriate.

Questions to consider in selecting Humanities curriculum:

-Do the curriculum components allow for a flexible delivery?

-How does the curriculum work for students without digital access?

-Are there specific and measurable ways to ensure that English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities are able to access content and demonstrate understanding?

-What resources and tools are available to support parents/caregivers and for students who are independently learning? 

Now is the time for educational leaders to be proactive and intentional in selecting curriculum that centers equity and access. As today’s students explore issues of identity, citizenship, cultural traditions, oppression, and activism, their curricular resources should provide rich content and skill development that will equip them to be thoughtful, engaged, and transformational leaders. 

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