Public high school teachers and archaeology: Exploring the field
Archaeology belongs in the schools. Students and teachers both find it interesting, and it has been shown to be an effective vehicle for teaching a wide array of topics and skills. However, there are at least two serious reasons why it is important for students to understand what archaeologists do and why: (1) an informed public is a potential ally in identifying, protecting and managing endangered archaeological resources; and (2) archaeology as a mode of inquiry can help students understand the social construction of the world in which they live.
Archaeologists and educators have been working together to develop materials to help teachers use archaeology in their teaching. Some excellent materials are now available for middle and junior high school teachers. But if students are to take archaeology seriously as a tool for social analysis, they need to be exposed to a more mature understanding of it in high school.
Interviews exploring the ways in which archaeology is currently understood and used in all aspects of the curriculum in one high school indicate that teachers use it to capture students' interest, or to reward them for learning some other subject. Teachers do not use archaeology to teach analysis and interpretation of evidence, or critical thinking skills, or the role of human beings in the creation of social systems. Since very few teachers have received formal education in archaeology, they do not associate these goals with archaeology as a discipline.
Teachers' sources of information about archaeology are television, newspapers and general circulation magazines. These popular sources do not provide them with the understanding they need to recognize archaeology as a tool for intellectual and social analysis. Archaeologists should take advantage of more professional channels for reaching teachers with serious material linking archaeology to the various disciplines traditionally taught in high schools.
To reach high school students with a more sophisticated understanding of archaeology, we need first to present that knowledge to their teachers as fellow professionals.
0326: Cultural anthropology
0533: Secondary education