Teaching Social Studies = Finding History Everywhere!

To tell you the truth, the past couple of weeks have been less than historically oriented for me. I have been doing income taxes for our household and those of a couple of my children. I have been writing curriculum for some Career and Technical Education programs (think welding, culinary arts and automotive technology) and I have been trying to keep up with teaching my undergraduate writing class at SUNY Cortland. Also in the midst of those activities I was helping move the OCM BOCES office (not so much my stuff because, well, I’m retired!!!), attending assorted Doctor’s appointments for me and family members, making plans for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, cleaning the house for the arrival of #2 son and girlfriend for said birthday party, and oh yes, trying not to have a stroke while mostly not watching the SU basketball teams compete in their respective Final Fours. Sheesh!! What time is there for thinking about history?? Wait a minute…let’s find some history in my mish mash of activities:

Doing income taxes: Did you know that Americans did not always pay income taxes? In fact, the first time a federal income tax appeared was in 1861, when Congress passed the Revenue Act which included a tax on personal incomes to help pay war expenses. It was repealed ten years later, but, in 1894, Congress tried again with a flat rate Federal income tax. That was ruled unconstitutional the following year by the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, Congress passed the 16th Amendment on July 2, 1909 and it was ratified on February 3, 1913, allowing the Federal government to tax the income of individuals. Only Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming currently have no state income tax leaving 43 that get a piece of your income pie. Oh, and the original deadline used to be March 1, then it got pushed back to March 15 and then April 15. Now we have lots more time to worry about it!! Thanks a lot!! (Library of Congress 2015)

Career and Technical Education: Career and technical education, or vocational education can be traced back a time before the Industrial Revolution when young boys were apprenticed in a trade. But it started to grow with the founding of the United States and the need to educate future citizens. Apprenticeships were giving way to formal schooling which was largely limited to boys. By the 19th century, society needed a well-trained and schools specializing in training students for certain jobs opened. Although still mostly for boys and men, the idea started to spread to women’s colleges in the 1840s. The first “manual training school”, established in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1879, combined hands-on learning with classroom learning. This was followed by the first trade school in New York in 1881 and the establishment of agriculture schools at the turn of the 20th century. The growth of vocational programs exploded after World War I to include adult education and retraining citizens to re-enter the workforce. World War II also caused a big surge in technical education as workers with specialized skills were needed for defense purposes. Now known as Career and Technical Education, programs have taken on new importance as an alternative pathway to College and Career readiness. (ACTE: Association for Career and Technical Education 2016)

SUNY Cortland: Cortland Normal School, offering a two-year teacher training program after high school, was founded in 1868. Originally located in downtown Cortland, the campus was destroyed by a fire in 1919 and reopened in its present location in 1923. Old Main (where I have an office!) was the only building. The program for teachers expanded from 2 to 3 years in 1921 and then again to 4 years in 1938. In 1933 the athletic teams’ nickname was changed from the “Normals” to the “Red Dragons.” Good choice, I think! Over the years, the campus expanded and in 1941 officially became a four-year college providing courses leading to a bachelor’s degree. In 1948, Cortland became a founding member of the State University of New York. Students were charged tuition for the first time in 1963. It was $400 a year! I think it’s a bit more now! Here’s a shout-out to all of my Cortland Alum friends and family! (SUNY Cortland 2014)

And there’s more! Where and how did OCM BOCES get its start? When did doctors stop making house calls? When and why did candles on birthday cakes become a tradition? Whose idea was the Final Four and when did it start? I could go on, but you get the idea. We know that history is all around us! It’s not chapters in textbook or even documents in a library. It’s everywhere we look every day. Our students need to know this, too. We are history and history is us!!

What historical activities have you been up to without even knowing? Ask questions, wonder and then look it up, find out and let your students in on it!!





ACTE: Association for Career and Technical Education. ACTE: Association for Career and Technical Education. 2016. https://www.acteonline.org/general.aspx?id=810#.Vw5-g_krKM8 (accessed April 13, 2016).

Library of Congress. “History of U.S. Income Tax.” Library of Congress Business Reference Services. August 12, 2015. https://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html (accessed April 13, 2016).

SUNY Cortland. History. 2014. http://www2.cortland.edu/about/history/ (accessed April 13, 2016).

One thought on “Teaching Social Studies = Finding History Everywhere!

  1. There is a good opportunity here for you to expand on the “guild” system which you briefly mention. I was surprised by learning more about it when I was a quality management (manufacturing) consultant and training quality assurance staff and management on the origins of quality standards and the beginnings of quality systems. I like history so much. Guilds and the era before the industrial revolution were quite fascinating and are evidenced in many works of art depicting that era–paintings of a potter’s workshop, stained-glass rendering of women in a loomer’s workshop, etc.

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