Past Efforts by AAA to Promote Anthropology Education

by Paul A. Erickson

The new AAA Anthropological Education Commission will expand past efforts by AAA and affiliated sections to promote the teaching of anthropology in grades K-12 and community colleges. A brief - and therefore selective - overview of these efforts reveals considerable strengths and accomplishments on which the Commission can build.

Beginning in the 1960s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded several anthropology curriculum projects, including the Anthropology Curriculum Study Project, sponsored by AAA. This Project produced a one-semester course, Patterns in Human History. The Georgia Anthropology Curriculum Project produced a variety of elementary school curricula, studies and publications, notably Precollegiate Anthropology: Trends and Materials (1975). Some publications from this era were based on sessions held at AAA annual meetings. A high point of the 1960s was publication of the landmark volume The Teaching of Anthropology (1963).

In the late 1970s, the locus of anthropology education initiatives shifted to the Council for Anthropology and Education (CAE), a section of AAA. CAE nurtured an interest in the teaching of anthropology principally through the activities of its Teaching Anthropology Committee, which sponsored numerous sessions about teaching at AAA annual meetings. Persons active in the Teaching Anthropology Committee also participated in activities outside AAA. Some Committee activities evolved into publications, such as Practicing Anthropology in Precollege Education (1986) and Teaching Anthropology Creatively (1993). The CAE journal Anthropology & Education Quarterly also published articles about anthropology education and devoted at least three special issues to this topic.

In the 1980s, the CAE Teaching Anthropology Committee began lobbying AAA for a policy supporting K-12 education. In 1988, this lobbying paid off when the AAA Programs Department helped create the AAA Task Force on Teaching Anthropology in Schools. The Task Force, with a life-span of three years, had three mandates: To identify conditions impeding the teaching of anthropology in schools; to make recommendations on the curricular role of anthropology; and to help AAA staff, in particular the Director of Programs, promote anthropology teaching. The Task Force comprised four committees: Research on Anthropology in Schools, Development of Guidelines for Teaching Anthropology, Review and Development of Curriculum Materials and Outreach. These committees generated data, launched projects and compiled mailing lists of persons interested in promoting anthropology education at all levels. The Wenner-Gren Foundation funded a retreat of 14 anthropologists and educators that led to the drafting of the booklet Anthropology and the Pre-College Curriculum: Central Themes and Concepts, a publication awaiting completion.

A major initiative of the Task Force was to sponsor three inter-related sessions at AAA annual meetings: Central Themes in the Teaching of Anthropology (1990), The Incorporation of New Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Anthropology (1991) and How Exemplary Teachers Overcome Problems in the Teaching of Anthropology (1992). These sessions were incorporated into a book, The Teaching of Anthropology: Problems, Issues and Decisions (1997). This book, published in association with AAA, can be considered a sequel to The Teaching of Anthropology (1963).

In 1993, after an extension of one year, the Task Force dissolved, but many of its members reformed as the new Teaching Anthropology Committee of the General Anthropology Division (GAD), another section of AAA. This Committee continued to sponsor sessions at AAA annual meetings and contributed to other national teaching organizations. Since 1993, efforts to promote anthropology education within GAD have expanded. The bulletin of the Federation of Small Anthropology Programs, a GAD committee, routinely publishes papers on teaching. In 1994, GAD launched its own bulletin, General Anthropology, which features a wide range of materials pertaining to anthropology education. Furthermore, GAD publishes a series of teaching modules distributed free of charge to members. In 1999, a new book, Strategies in Teaching Anthropology, explored a wide range of classroom experiences, many of them by members of GAD.

The Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC), yet another section of AAA, has always maintained a strong interest in anthropology education. Several of its active members have participated in AAA activities linked to teaching. In 1998, to reflect this interest, SACC titled its newsletter SACC Notes: Teaching Anthropology. At every AAA annual meeting, SACC sponsors a Five-Fields Update session for community college teachers, and SACC also devotes significant portions of its own annual meetings to pedagogical issues. Together, SACC, GAD and CAE form a trio of AAA sections that for three decades nurtured anthropology education within AAA. Meanwhile, AAA undertook a State-by-State compilation of anthropology in high school social studies curricula, and the editors of Anthropology Newsletter introduced a Pedagogical Pointers column with news relevant to teaching.

While this brief overview has focused on efforts to promote anthropology education within or peripheral to AAA, the impressively large number of independent initiatives also deserves mention. These include at least three newsletters: Anthro Notes (1979-) published by the Smithsonian Institution, Teaching Anthropology Newsletter (1981-) published by Saint Mary’s University and Archaeology and Public Education (1990-1998), formerly published by the Society for American Archaeology. Many other individuals institutions - too numerous to mention here - have implemented local and regional anthropology education projects of all kinds.

Clearly, the new AAA Anthropological Education Commission can build on substantial past accomplishments. These accomplishments convey four important lessons.

By following these lessons, the Commission will be able to expand past accomplishments with success.

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