Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why do some history teachers hate history?, Part III

Edweek's Greg Milo faults history textbooks as well for treating certain topics too briefly and “missing out on the many variables that matter in understanding cause and effect." He also claims that textbooks “tend to dismiss the humanity of the subject—akin to telling a story with no main character.”

In fact, plenty of history texts do consider myriads of variables that underlie particular outcomes and do tell human-centered stories. True, some of these texts were written a long time ago and/or wouldn’t pass Common Core muster. And finding the best ones means looking far beyond the dictates of the Educational Industrial Complex. Milo observes that many adults, in contrast to his high school students, do like history; perhaps we should look at what they’re reading. David David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, William L. Shirer, and Barbara Tuchman all have gigantic readerships. Also quite popular these days is Big History, which sweeps through billions of years of history, from the Big Bang to the present day.

But Milo’s answer isn’t to find more engaging texts. Instead, he wants students to somehow decide what specific topics they want to study in detail. Nor would he provide them first with a basic chronological framework in which to contextualize potential topics. Although decisions, Milo has said, require you to “consider the many variables of an event,” it’s not clear how many variables a history student with no basic chronological background knowledge in history has at his/her disposal in order to decide which historical topic to focus on.

Milo admits that any topic in history can potentially teach thinking and decision-making skills; what he doesn’t admit is that any topic in history can potentially be interesting—if taught well. Besides better textbooks, we desperately need better teachers: teachers who find history so intrinsically interesting that they know they can interest their students in all the topics that arise; not ones who are not “much into” the Middle Ages and assume that students will be bored by most topics.


Anonymous said...

What a low quality teacher. How can you NOT teach history chronologically? How can anyone teach the American Revolution without delving into the Middle Ages? That was a crucial period of immense change. From the role of the Catholic Church in determining the fates of nations. Traveling the world to newly discovered continents; the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther; Henry VIII marriages, the creation of the King James Bible, Calvinism, Puritanism. I feel sorry for kids today. From first hand experience as a substitute, they are being poorly educated.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree--the first pass or two through history should be done chronologically, or as close to it as possible while still preserving a coherent narrative. Chronology is a fundamental organizing principle of history, and when it the chronology is not made apparent, or worse, is blatantly disregarded, educators are doing their students a serious injustice.

Remarkably, when I worked on a committee tasked with overhauling the curriculum of a "rigorous" private school, I encountered the mentality that chronology is irrelevant to the study of history from none other than the school's high school history teacher who was also a PhD historian. His thing was that he wanted to teach the 9th and 10th graders 1865-1940 one year and 1940-present the next year so that he could have fewer preps. The problem was that every other year the 9th graders would start with 1940-present and have it followed by 1865-1940. These kids had never had a coherent history education up until that point.

He insisted that since history was so vast, it was useless to try to teach content anyway. So he used the history class to teach things like research skills. Meanwhile, the students were being denied a content and narrative rich history education.

momof4 said...

The classical curriculum starts with the creation of a timeline, which is carried on each year. Grades 1-4 cover the world from ancient to modern, and the cycle is repeated in 5-8 and in HS, in increasing depth and analysis. The ELA choices parallel the history, as do the sciences, art, music etc; a nice logical apprach