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Department of State

New Jersey Historical Commission

The Hon. Tahesha Way, Lt. Governor and Secretary of State

Topical Guide

Part I | Part II

Why Teach New Jersey History?

According to Title 18A of the New Jersey State Statutes, each school district "shall adopt a suitable two-year course of study in the history of the United States, including the history of New Jersey, to be given to each student during the last four years of high school." Furthermore, the law states that each school district "shall adopt a course of study in community civics, the geography, history and civics of New Jersey... to be taken by all pupils in the public elementary schools in the grade or grades in which it given." (Italics added.)

Teaching New Jersey history and geography is a major priority of the revised Core Curriculum Content Standards, revised in October 2004 by the New Jersey State Board of Education. The Social Studies Standard 6.4 specifically refers to a "knowledge of United States and New Jersey History” (italics added).

New Jersey history is best incorporated into the curriculum, not as a separate unit or course, but at the place where a topic being studied can be illuminated by New Jersey examples. When elementary school students are studying inventions, for example, Thomas Alva Edison should be discussed. Or when the American Revolution is being studied, the Battle of Trenton and the New Jersey State Constitution of 1776 might be included. This way, New Jersey history reinforces subjects being studied in American history.

New Jersey history is especially well suited to being incorporated into the American history course of study, because New Jersey history covers all the periods in American history from pre-Columbian through exploration and colonization to the present day. However, topics may not come up in New Jersey history in the same sequence as in American history. For example, the abolition of slavery in New Jersey was done in the aftermath of the American Revolution, not as a result of the Civil War.

But because New Jersey gradually abolished slavery and compensated former slave owners for their loss of property, it provides an alternative to the national resolution of this issue and a topic for discussion in the classroom.

As the Task Force on New Jersey History in June 1997 stated: "New Jersey has one of the richest and most vibrant histories of any state in the Union. One of the original 13 colonies, New Jersey was the crossroads of the American Revolution. More battles were fought here than in any other state. In later years, our state became a center of invention and technological innovation. From the ranks of our citizens have come military heroes, athletes, women's rights crusaders, scientists, presidents, and authors. With its variety of ethnic and religious groups, New Jersey is today one of the most heterogeneous of the states. Our citizens can demonstrate how a diverse society works together through celebration of its common past."

David Steven Cohen, Ph.D., New Jersey Historical Commission



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