Go Ahead, Teach Local

by Tiffani Righero, Curator of Eduation at the Chandler Museum on

“Shop Local, Buy Local.”

These buzzwords (especially during this shopping season) show a growing desire to support local resources rather than to depend on national or international products.

Well, what about “Teach Local”?  Recently our staff met with our Educator Advisory Committee (teachers, principals, and curriculum specialists from local school districts) and the questions were raised:

  • “Why local?”
  • “Why use the local story to teach history in our social studies class?”
  • “Why go to the effort of preparing a lesson using local history resources when national/state resources are more readily available?”

As a local history museum wanting to connect with teachers and get our resources in the classroom, these questions are not only pertinent, they probe the very core of what we do.

Goodyear company town, developed during World War I to produce cotton to aid in the war effort. An example of a local story with national ties.

We all know there is power in local history, but how do we convey this power to teachers?  How do we assure them that the local story can enhance their curriculum?  Teachers, bound by state and national standards, seem to have less and less wiggle room in the content they cover in the classroom.  Many schools have abandoned local history for state history, usually taught in fourth grade.

And what’s the primary reason for this? Statewide testing.  If students learn state history, rather than local history, they can all be tested on the same material. Due to these national trends in school content, museums play an increasingly crucial role in educating the community about the local past.

As I ponder this “Why Local?” question, recent discussions about museum education’s foundation and its relationship to formal education have added to the conversation.

Ben Garcia’s article, “What We Do Best” in the Journal of Museum Education (Summer 2012), raises the concern that museums work too hard to fit their resources into formal education’s format and curriculum standards.  Garcia argues that museum learning has its own strengths. It should stand independently, rather than adapt to formal education’s definition of a learning experience.

In light of this, how can we show that our resources and methods are worthwhile? How do we convince teachers: “Go ahead, teach local”?

3 Responses to “Go Ahead, Teach Local”

  1. December 21, 2012 at 10:40 am, Bruce Teeple said:

    As Tiffani notes, the roots of this attitude are systemic and institutional, particularly when our society ties school funding to assessments and rankings.

    A teacher’s daily reality is overwhelming. Too many expensive curriculum “packages” sold by textbook publishers merely reinvent the wheel. There will probably always be disagreement over the content and perspective of standardized tests. No wonder many teachers shut down, regardless of how much they support your museum’s goals.

    How do we get folks to take local history more seriously? If no one gives a hoot about their community’s past, why should they care about its present, let alone its future?

    Many school kids will likely remain in their hometowns. By taking local history seriously, we not only encourage a sense of pride and place, we also ensure future civic participation. Those who move elsewhere can also take with them the memory and means to understand, appreciate and respect their new backyards.

    But you won’t get the big ones by fishing from the bank; you have to wade into the middle of the stream.

    Consider writing a local history column for your newspaper. Develop a National History Day competition in your area. Offer your services as a speaker on topics of local interest before churches, retirement homes, school, scout and social groups. Teach history and preservation classes through your museum, community college, or local OLLI organization.

    I’m sure all of you can share and strengthen other arguments for our existence. Think of it as “spreading the gospel of local history.”


  2. February 03, 2013 at 4:08 am, Robin Short said:

    Providing “leadership in the creation of quality digital resources from libraries and archives.” For local history materials see the State of Wisconsin Collection .


  3. March 07, 2013 at 5:41 pm, Tiffani Righero said:

    Bruce, I appreciate your thoughts and additional questions in response to this post. I hope that we all consider how we make local history relevant in our communities.

    I’ve been working on a lesson for our local teachers to use in their classroom that features a series of Dorothea Lange photographs that were taken here in Chandler, Arizona. There is a great image of a grandmother with her sick grandchild in Chandler, here from Texas to pick cotton in 1940. I’m calling her the migrant grandmother and have asked teachers to use the image in addition to Lange’s famous Migrant Mother image. You can check out the lesson using the address below. I’d love to hear how others are using local history to teach national history.


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