This weekend (Sunday and Monday) I made my first visit to Wichita, Kansas. The Kansas Council of History Education (KCHE) invited me to deliver the keynote address at their annual meeting. It was held this year on the campus of Newman University.
My address was titled “History for a Democracy.” I began the talk with three introductory premises:
- The current state of American democracy has once again proven that the nation’s founding fathers were right when they connected the strength of the American Republic with an education citizenry
- All K-12 teachers are public historians
- Our democracy needs public historians
I then spent some time discussing the debate over whether history educators should be teaching “knowledge” or “skills.” This is a debate that culture warriors, radio talk show hosts, politicians, and elected officials lose sleep over, but teachers know that the pundits and bureaucrats often understand very little about what happens in their history classrooms. Good history teachers integrate facts and skills seamlessly in the history classroom through what we call “historical thinking.”
I concluded the talk with Flannery Burke and Thomas Andrew’s famous 5 “Cs” of historical thinking: change over time, context, causation, contingency, complexity. I explored the ways these “Cs” are present, and not present, in our public discourse. We talked about:
- A CNN discussion between Jeffrey Lord and Van Jones on the history of race and Democratic Party.
- The way the SAT examines reading comprehension
- Providential history
- Whether there is really a right and wrong “side” of history
- The story of the “Umbrella Man” as a way to think about causation
- The 1619 Project
Thanks to Emily Williams and Nate McAlister of the KCHE for the invitation. It was also good to see Dave McIntire and Diana Moss, alums of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Princeton Seminar” on colonial America. And thanks to George Washington’s Mount Vernon for sponsoring the lecture.
Here are some pics: