Educators say mandatory testing makes it hard to teach Thanksgiving

California requires students to learn about the Thanksgiving holiday and the history surrounding it three times in their public school careers. But as KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports, a lot of students are missing out.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Nancy McTygue, head of the California History Social Science Project at UC Davis, says teachers this time of year are busy coming up with new ways to teach about Thanksgiving.

Nancy McTygue: In eighth grade, the teacher we saw compared three documents: a summary of the first Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims, a summary of the history of the holiday, and a planned but not delivered speech by an American Indian at the 350th anniversary of the Plymouth landing.

Guzman-Lopez: This and other lessons, McTygue says, strengthen mastery of U.S. history, teach critical thinking skills, and further a young person's civic development.

McTygue's group provides teacher training at seven Cal State and UC campuses. History lessons, many instructors tell her, are falling by the wayside as principals feel the pressure to meet federal English and math test requirements.

McTygue: Because of the emphasis on those two subject areas, oftentimes teachers are not allowed to teach history. So children in schools that are struggling, children that are often in immigrant communities, are in urban communities, are in our communities where there's not a lot of money – these children are not allowed to learn about our nation's history, sometimes not until high school.

Guzman-Lopez: And that puts students at a disadvantage as they move past high school and into college. McTygue and state educators are working on the problem. She's convened two summits on the teaching of history and plans to organize more next year.