For decades, fourth-grade students in California have had one project that has taken over dining room tables, required piles of popsicle sticks and kept parents and kids up at night completing it: building a model of one of the 18th- and 19th-century Spanish missions in the state.
But under a new educational framework the state Department of Education is rolling out, the annual project may become history.
Why? Two reasons: it doesn’t effectively teach students about the mission period and, worse, it might be offensive, according to the state.
“Attention should focus on the daily experience of missions rather than the building structures themselves. Building missions from sugar cubes or popsicle sticks does not help students understand the period and is offensive to many,” the new History-Social Science Framework adopted last year says. “Missions were sites of conflict, conquest, and forced labor. Students should consider cultural differences, such as gender roles and religious beliefs, in order to better understand the dynamics of Native and Spanish interaction.”
The framework, adopted by the state’s Department of Education, has tapped the attention of districts, parents and students across Southern California, from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire.
The Los Angeles Unified School District – the second largest district in the nation – will be adopting the new guidelines. Part of the change is a move away from one big project and toward “skills that students need for the future,” said Nathan MacAinsh, history/social sciences coordinator for the district.
“Projects in the past, like the mission project, were showy, kind of like the old days of the science fair, where everyone did the volcano project,” he said. That didn’t mean students were learning how to analyze or interpret events and information, instead of only learning names and dates.
California fourth-graders learn about the history of the state, from before Europeans arrived to the modern era. Over time, the assignment of having students build a model of one of the 21 Spanish missions in California has become somewhat of a tradition. Adults remember making their models of the San Fernando, Santa Barbara or other missions out of…