24 Hours With Kansas History Educators

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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:

  1. 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
  2. All K-12 teachers are public historians
  3. 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:

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It was great to see Nathan McAlister, 2010 National History Teacher of the Year

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Great to catch-up with Diana Moss, a Princeton seminar alum who teaches history in Galena, Kansas

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Emily Williams (KCHE President) and Don Gifford of the Kansas State Department of Education

Episode 52: History of the iPhone Generation

PodcastNow that most everyone carries a search engine in their pocket, why do we still need to study history? Our present age demonstrates just how deceiving the internet can truly be. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling make the case that historical thinking is a critical tool for surviving this “post-truth” era while also warning against the dangers of leaning too heavily into presentism. They are joined by Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg), the author of Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).

Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).

Rebecca Onion Interviews Sam Wineburg on Teaching History

WineburgI love this interview at Slate.  It is not only a subject–historical thinking in schools–that I interests me, but both participants in the interview are former guests on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Sam Wineburg was a guest on Episode 3.  Rebecca Onion was our guest on Episode 12.  (We hope to have Wineburg back this season–stay tuned).

Onion talks to Wineburg about his new book, Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).  Here is a taste:

I loved the note you made about the difference between “sounding critical” and thinking critically. President Trump recently said that Google is biased against conservatives. There have been a number of instances of this, where Trump or someone Trump-ish will say something that sounds critical or wise but isn’t. It’s hard because it almost feels like there is an appropriation of the language of critical thinking on the right that makes it hard to explain what the difference might be between that and what we are talking about.

It’s not “almost an appropriation,” it is an appropriation. And in this respect, the work that has influenced me the most is the work by Kate Starbird, an absolutely brilliant internet researcher who studies crisis communication at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering.* And she has a paper that shows that the alt-right has, right there with Alex Jones, has appropriated the language of “Do you have an open mind? Are you an independent thinker? Are you willing to trust your own intelligence to make up your own mind when you review the evidence?”

And so absolutely, this is the language that has been appropriated by the alt-right in particular, these neo-Nazi sites and conspiracy sites that basically say, “The wool is being pulled over your eyes! But you have the power to [pose] thoughtful questions through your own powers of discernment if you have an open mind.” This is the stock-in-trade of propagandists—you can go back and see the same kind of thing in work by Lenin and Goebbels: “You should trust yourself. We’re not going to tell you what to believe, you evaluate the evidence—here is the evidence.”

Read the entire interview here.

When it Comes to Measuring Historical Thinking, the “Nation’s Report Card” is “Fool’s Gold”

Exam

First, here is some background on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report.  It is often described as “the nation’s report card.”

And here is a taste of critique of the NAEP by Sam Wineburg, Mark Smith, and Joel Breakstone:

Students have never fared well on NAEP’s tests in these subjects. The first history test in 1987 found that half of the students couldn’t place the Civil War in the right half-century. Some 15 years later, following a decade of new standards, The Washington Post wrote that students on the 2001 exam “lack even a basic knowledge of American history.” In 2014, the last time history was tested, the New York Times fished into the recycling bin for this headline: “Most Eighth-Graders Score Low on History, Civics.”

But what would happen if instead of grading the kids, we graded the test makers? How? By evaluating the claims they make about what their tests actually measure.

For example, in history, NAEP claims to test not only names and dates, but critical thinking — what it calls “Historical Analysis and Interpretation.” Such questions require students to “explain points of view,” “weigh and judge different views of the past,” and “develop sound generalizations and defend these generalizations with persuasive arguments.” In college, students demonstrate these skills by writing analytical essays in which they have to put facts into context. NAEP, however, claims it can measure such skills using traditional multiple-choice questions.

We wanted to test this claim. We administered a set of Historical Analysis and Interpretation questions from NAEP’s 2010 12th-grade exam to high school students who had passed the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in U.S. History (with a score of 3 or above). We tracked students’ thinking by having them verbalize their thoughts as they solved the questions.

What we learned shocked us.

In a study that appears in the forthcoming American Educational Research Journal, we show that in 108 cases (27 students answering four different items), there was not a single instance in which students’ thinking resembled anything close to “Historical Analysis and Interpretation.” Instead, drawing on canny test-taking strategies, students typically did an end run around historical content to arrive at their answers.

Read the entire piece here.  I need to share this piece with my “Teaching History” class. We are in the midst of reading Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Today The Founding Fathers Were Invoked:

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For their differences with the Confederate founders

For protecting us against theocracy

For the fact that there are statues memorializing them

For defending small government

For setting an example of equality that our current POTUS ignores

For their views on slavery and the Constitution

For upholding “equality for everybody,” including the LGBT community

For apparently inspiring Colin Kaepernick

For their eating habits

For seeding white supremacy

For their opposition to political partisanship

For being Godly

For their imperfection

For protecting us against the “devils in our nature.”

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

 

It’s Not The “Teaching American History” Grants, But It Is Something

Here are the details from The National Coalition for History:

Federal Funding Opportunity for K-12 History and Civics Grants Announced

Federal Competitive Grant funding is now available for K-12 History and Civics Education professional development! The US Department of Education has published a Federal Register Notice announcing the grant competition for the National Activities grants we successfully advocated for in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Click here to read the Federal Register Notice.

NOTE: The timing on this is tight! For those wishing to apply for funding please note the following:

The deadline on notice to apply is August 10th (this entails you telling the US Department of Education you intend to apply).

The Department of Education will host a pre-application webinar to provide technical assistance to interested applicants on July 18, 2017-next Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. eastern time. To join the webinar please go to the event address: at https://educateevents.webex.com/educateevents/onstage/g.php?MTID=e0ff2dd5c36144d0f8e4ba71d69d03484.

The deadline to submit applications is August 21st.

For further information contact: Christine Miller, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW., Room 4W205, Washington, DC 20202–5960. Or by email: 

Christine.Miller@ed.govDetails about the K-12 History and Civics National Activities Grants Program (click here):

The new program is designed to promote innovative instruction, learning strategies, and professional development in American history, civics and government, and geography, with an emphasis on activities and programs that benefit low-income students and underserved populations.

This is the first year the new grants program received funding from Congress. It is expected the grants will be awarded in October 2017. The estimated amount of available funds for FY 17 is $1,700,000. Contingent upon the availability of funds and the quality of applications, the Department of Education may make additional awards in subsequent years from the list of unfunded applications from this competition. The estimated range of awards is $200,000–$700,000 per year and the estimated average size of awards is $500,000 per year. The estimated number of awards is 2–7. The project period is up to three years, with renewal of up two additional years if the grantee demonstrates to the Secretary that the grantee is effectively using funds.

 

Pennsylvania Bill 723 and the Teaching of American History

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Pennsylvania, the state where I live, has just taken another step toward passing Senate Bill 723.  Here is a taste of the bill:

Amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), entitled “An act relating to the public school system, including certain provisions applicable as well to private and parochial schools; amending, revising, consolidating and changing the laws relating thereto,” in high schools, providing for civics test graduation requirement.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1.  The act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a section to read:

Section 1613.1.  Civics Test Graduation Requirement.–(a)  Notwithstanding 22 Pa. Code § 4.24 (relating to high school graduation requirements), beginning in the 2020-2021 school year and in each school year thereafter, each school entity shall require a student, as a condition of high school graduation, to correctly answer at least sixty percent (60%) of the questions on a test that is identical to the one hundred (100) question civics test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The bill was just approved by the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee and will now move to a full vote of the Senate.  Harrisburg’s ABC 27 News has the story here.

I will be keeping an eye on this.  I think Pennsylvania students should have a solid grasp of American history content and I am happy to help with this in any way, if called upon. A test like this will probably help some students with basic facts, but most history educators will tell you that Bill 723 is only a very small start.

I hope the legislators behind this bill realize that history education, and the contribution that the study of history can make to a thriving democracy, is so much more than just memorization and test-taking.  I would like the Pennsylvania legislature to:

  1.  Strengthen history education by requiring all history teachers to have a college major in the field.  (Messiah College students are required to have a full major. Many of other states have this requirement.
  2.  Train current educators how to teach historical thinking.  My Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past might be a good place to start. This Fall I will be doing this with about 20 Messiah College teachers in my “Teaching History” course.  (Did I mention that Messiah College is one of the best places in the country to train as a history teacher?  Our teachers are scattered throughout the Commonwealth and beyond).
  3.  Stop thinking about the assessment of students in history as the memorization of facts as if students will somehow become better citizens if they just know the dates of the Civil War.  This approach to the teaching of history was perhaps best summed-up by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh when he infamously said “History is real simple.  You know what history is? It’s what happened…The problem you get into is when guys…try to skew history by [saying], ‘Well, let’s interpret what happened because maybe we can’t find the truth in facts…Well that’s not what history is.  History is what happened, and history ought to be nothing more than the quest to find out what happened.”   Wrong.  I don’t know as much as I should about the Pennsylvania State Senate, but I did find it interesting that Bill 723 was introduced by 19 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

NOTE:  The most recent version of the bill no longer makes a passing score on the citizenship test a requirement for graduation.

The Training of History Teachers: A Twitterstorm

I wrote this tweet in the midst of a great discussion with history teachers (K-16) that spontaneously broke out last night on Twitter.  Much of the discussion revolved around how colleges and universities train history teachers and whether or not they are doing it effectively.  By my account we had over 50 teachers participate.

For those of you who are interested, we collected all (or most) of the tweets using Storify. You can read them all here.

Julie Guthrie, a New Jersey middle-school history teacher who I had the privilege of getting to know last week during our Gilder-Lehrman Princeton Seminar, has suggested that the conversation continue at #historyteacherchat  I will try to jump in at this hashtag whenever I get the chance.

Keeping History Relevant

HRCLast month I announced that I have joined the steering committee of the History Relevance Campaign.  The public historians, history educators, and history museum professionals behind this movement are doing great work in promoting history as an essential feature of democratic life in the United States.

Several major institutions have endorsed this effort, including the American Association of State and Local History, the Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians, the Civil War Trust, the George Mason University History Department, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the History Channel, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the National Council for History Education, the National Council on Public History, National History Day, the Oral History Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Alliance of Museums, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and many others. Click here for a complete list.

Over at the blog of the American Association of State and Local History, Eliza Newland of the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum has offered eight ways to “keep history relevant.” Her thoughts come from the History Relevance Campaign’s “Value of History Statement.”

Here is a taste:

8 Ways to Help Keep History Relevant:

  1. Read the Value of History statement and use it to inform your own understanding of history’s relevance.
  2. Take a leadership role and seek formal endorsement of the Value of History statement by your organization. If you are a student, talk to the chair of your department about the statement. If you are a young professional, an intern, or a volunteer, talk to your supervisor.
  3. Commit to incorporating the Values into your work. Talk about them when strategic planning for your organization. Include them in your teaching statement.
  4. Spread the word. Start conversations with friends, colleagues, neighbors, or fellow students about the value of history and share insight. Talk about the Values in a class that you’re teaching or in a graduate student meeting.
  5. Share your story. Talk about how you incorporating the Values into your work. Send out social media messages about the importance and relevance of history.
  6. Continue the conversation on LinkedIn by joining the HRC group.
  7. Really motivated by the thought of making history more relevant? Contribute your time and talents to an HRC task force. They are always looking for help and there are multiple task forces that you can join based on your interests: Marketing, K-20 Education, Impact Project, and more. Learn more about how you can get involved.  
  8. Follow the History Relevance Campaign (@historycampaign) on Twitter.

 

History News Network: "South Dakota: Please Reconsider Your Decision to Dump Early American History"

Happy to report that History News Network is running my piece on South Dakota’s decision to stop teaching early American history in public schools:

In case you haven’t heard, the South Dakota Board of Education has dumped early American history from its K-12 curriculum.
When I heard about this decision, a quote from one of the great nineteenth-century observers of American life came to mind.  During the 1830s a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled throughout the United States and studied the character of American society.  His observations would later be published in his Democracy in America—a work that is just as important to our national identity today as it was when it first appeared in 1835. 
In Chapter Two of Democracy in America Tocqueville laments the way that individualism—an idea at the heart of American democracy—destroys a citizen’s appreciation of the past. 
“Among democratic nations,” he wrote, “new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; those who will come after, no one has any idea; the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself.” 
Tocqueville understood that sometimes in a democratic society we become so addicted to the present that we forget where we came from.  We lose touch with history—the subject that provides us with our identity as Americans. 
Now that early American history is no longer part of the curriculum, it is very unlikely that a student in the public schools of South Dakota will ever read Tocqueville’s quote. 
The decision of the South Dakota Board of Education seems to be based on the idea that early American history is not important because it occurred so long ago and has no relevance for the present.  The Board of Education seems to think that history is merely the memorization of dates, timelines, and names. 
The decision is also based on a very thin view of citizenship.  How can students understand what it means to be a citizen of South Dakota or the United States without understanding that everything that they encounter in the present is rooted in a historic context?  
History is more than memorization.  It teaches students that current events are contingent on the events that came before them.  History teaches us the root causes of the things that happen in our world today.  
When students learn about context, contingency, and causation they develop a deeper—more robust—understanding of the world around them.


Read the rest here.

9th Grade Conversation of the Day

According to reliable sources, the following exchange occurred yesterday in a 9th grade history classroom at a public high school somewhere in central Pennsylvania:

Disgruntled anti-religious student (angrily):  Why do so many people in America have to quote the Bible all the time?

History Teacher (calmly):  What do you think?  And try to answer the question using history.

Disgruntled anti-religious student (angrily): I think it is probably because all the Founding Fathers were Christians and now we have to deal with the Christian nation that they created.

(At this point a hand shoots up in the back of the class.  It is raised by the daughter of a certain Christian college history professor.  Let’s call her “Christian Student”).

Christian Student: Um, the claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation is highly debatable.

Teacher:  Yes, it is debatable.

It is also rumored that the “Christian Student” is pictured on the left in this photo, taken earlier this year by a local newspaper reporter:

Allentown, PA School District Wants to Reduce History Coursework in Favor of More Math

I don’t know if this has been decided yet, but the Allentown, Pennsylvania School District is considering a plan that would merge social studies with English in order to improve test scores in math. (Yes, you read that correctly!) The proposed plan would combine sixth grade social studies and English into one 45-minutes class period so that 90 minutes a day could be spent on math.

This is sad.  Our schools are continuing to place a higher priority on subjects that will sustain our capitalist economy at the expense of subjects that will sustain our democracy.

Read all about it here.

The Big Dig at Stouffer Farm

The Messiah College website is reporting on an archaeological dig that we in the History Department sponsor at a 244-year old farm near campus.   We affectionately call the excavation: “The Big Dig at Stauffer Farm.” 

The dig is managed by my colleague David Pettegrew.  It provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage in an archaeological project, but it has also been a favorite place for public history students who want to gain experience teaching children about the past.  In conjunction with the Oakes Museum of Natural History, which is located on campus, our students get a chance to work with young archaeologists through the museums “Curator Club.”  And as this article reports, we will soon be investigating the farm through the use of GIS technology.

Just a few miles south of Messiah College, a 244-year-old farm is the site of an archaeological dig involving Messiah students, young participants in the Oakes Museum Curator Club, and older adults from nearby Messiah Village’s Pathways Institute for Lifelong Learning. The treasures from this effort aren’t simply the artifacts buried beneath the ground.  The great value, according to the dig directors, is in collaboratively exploring regional history, answering real research questions and adopting keen problem solving skills.
David Pettegrew, a professor in the Department of History, and Ken Mark, director of the Oakes Museum of Natural History, are overseeing the dig at the Stouffer Farm, a York County property dating back to 1767. The dig has been underway since fall 2010.

Students in Pettegrew’s historical archaeology course were the first to excavate the site. Having an opportunity to dig at a nearby location, rather than overseas, is quite unusual, Pettegrew explains. Student Katie Garland `12 adds, “I am sure that Dr. Pettegrew could work through this site by himself much more quickly if he did not have to teach all of us about the process of archaeology, but he is happy to pass on his expertise and help others learn.”

Pettegrew helps his students understand how to examine a property through an archaeological lens with the greater goal of unearthing artifacts to reveal other details that could help place the farm and the Stouffer family within their regional context. It is still unknown what led Abraham Stouffer and his family to settle on this land just a few miles south of Dillsburg, and even all the suspected uses of the property aren’t entirely confirmed. For example, Pettegrew, Mark and the students are trying to locate a grist and saw mill once located on the site and they’re searching for additional links between the farm and a nearby cemetery where several Stouffers are buried. Questions about the site are plenty. “We’ve only just scratched the surface,” Pettegrew explains.

The process of excavating the area involves establishing an invisible grid over the area to be dug. Then excavation happens in small square units following the natural and cultural layers (the “strata”). All earth removed from the unit is carefully sifted for material culture.  Artifacts discovered in the unit are left in place until completely uncovered. Once uncovered and removed from the site, the artifacts are taken to the Oakes Museum for cleaning, description, analysis, identification and, eventually, display.

So far those digging at the site have found old shoes, ceramics from the late 19th and early 20th century, nails, coal, pieces of metal and animal bones, among others. Excavation of the interior of an on-site outbuilding uncovered garbage pits. That might sound like an unpleasant find but the pits and their contents provide helpful clues as to when that particular building had fallen out of use.

Each day of digging is a bit of an adventure. Garland recalls digging with elementary school children during a Curator Club dig one Saturday when she helped the young students pull out a huge iron chain. “I enjoy talking to the kids about the process and watching them make connections between the artifacts and the history of the site,” Garland adds.

The Stouffer Farm dig has created some great opportunities for collaboration, according to Pettegrew and Mark. Messiah students taking Jeff Erikson’s GIS class are helping to digitize maps. An art history student is currently analyzing the pottery.  Folks doing genealogical research in the area are connecting with the project and adding their own findings to the collected body of research. Visitors to the Oakes Museum enjoy seeing what has been uncovered, and the current owner of the farm, Diane Phillips, is thrilled to know more about her property.

You can follow the dig via photos and blog posts at Stouffer Farm.