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About the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, and the seminal history education document Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools

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Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools

Development and Goals

The Bradley Commission on History in Schools was formed in 1987 in response to concerns regarding the quality and quantity of the history taught in American classrooms. The group was comprised of 16 of the most respected members of the history profession, including former presidents of each of the major professional organizations in history and a number of award-winning history teachers and writers. It was chaired by Kenneth T. Jackson, who went on, along with 189 concerned historians and educators, to form the National Council for History Education (NCHE) in 1990. The Commission's work was funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Upon forming, the Bradley Commission established two goals for itself:

  • Explore the conditions that contribute to, or impede, the effective teaching of history in American schools, from kindergarten through grade 12.
  • Make recommendations on the curricular role of history, and on how all of those concerned—teachers, students, parents, school administrators, university professors, publishers, and boards of education—may improve the teaching of history as the core of social studies in the schools.

The Bradley Commission focused on curriculum. Later guidelines in professional development and pedagogy, as well as the central foundations for the National Standards for History, were based on its work. The Bradley Commission's recommendations were articulated in Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools, first printed in 1988. The document was published and printed as a Second Edition in 2000, and underwent a second printing as recently as 2003.

Organization and Structure

Vital Themes and Narratives (from Building a History Curriculum, by the Bradley Commission) Building a History Curriculum establishes a rationale for studying history in schools, and makes nine recommendations regarding state and local policies. Principally, however, it sets forth a consensus of perspectives and ways of "historical thinking" that far transcend specific and useful facts. As the Commission words it: "'What of it?' is a worthy question and it requires an answer." To nurture these habits of mind, the Commission established a core set of Vital Themes and Narratives (see sidebar), which formed the foundation for its selection and articulation of three sets of Topics of Study: American History, Western Civilization and World History.

The document goes on to discuss several potential patterns of vertical articulation (course structure over a sequence of grades) for early, middle and high school grades, as well as a discussion of issues related to determining structures and priorities of these courses. It concludes with a very relevant and timeless discussion of methods, modes, and connections of various forms of historical study.


For more information specifically dealing with history education standards, check out the report About the National Standards for History.




You may be interested in additional history education materials. Check out Designed Instruction's LearningLeads™ resources below:

LearningLeads™ Curriculum and Learning Strand overview page: Learning Through Context (contains numerous articles, research, and instructional strategies, and activities related to teaching with primary and secondary historical source documents)

LearningLeads™ home page (contains numerous other K-12 instructional resources)

For more information dealing with education standards, go to Designed Instruction's standards services page.

About the Bradley Commission on History in Schools

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