Sam Wineburg: Why history can’t be about telling our children lies

Sam Wineburg is one of our favorite writers, authors and thinkers here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Listen to our conversations with him in episode 4 and episode 52 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Anyone who reads this blog knows my favorite Wineburg quote:

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.

This quote is even more relevant now than when Wineburg first published it nearly twenty years ago in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Last week Wineburg published a piece at the website of Phi Delta Kappa titled “The Silence of the Ellipses: Why History Can’t Be About Telling Our Children Lies.” He writes, “History textbooks often tell sanitized versions of the past when a more complete story will enable us to know who we are as a country–and become even better.” Here is a taste:

In September 2020, President Donald Trump stood in the great hall of the National Archives to denounce what he called a leftist assault on American history: “We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms,” he said, and teach our children a kind of history that will make them “love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.”

Love built on a lie is false love. It achieves its mirage by making truth its victim. The goal of historical study is to cultivate neither love nor hate. Its goal must be to acquaint us with the dizzying spectrum of our humanity: lofty moments of nobility mixed in with ignominious descents into knavery. When history’s mirror intones a single phrase — that we’re the fairest of them all — it freezes us in childhood and stunts our growth. History that impels us to look at the past, unflinchingly and clear-eyed, does not diminish us or make us less patriotic. The opposite, in fact, is true: It makes us grow up. Understanding who we were allows us to understand who we are now. Only then can we commit to doing something about it.

That should be the goal of history education. Our children deserve nothing less.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump announces members of his “President’s Advisory 1776 Commission.” There are no American historians.

As COVID-19 cases reach record heights and our country faces unprecedented cyber-attacks, Donald Trump is making appointment to his 1776 Commission. Trump established the commission by executive order on November 2, 2020 and Joe Biden is likely to eliminate it after he is inaugurated on January 20, 2020.

The White House announced: “Today, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to be Members of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission for terms of two years”:

Here are Trump’s appointments. It is worth noting that there are no professional American historians on the committee.

Larry Arnn: He is the current president of conservative Hillsdale College. Arnn spoke at the September 2020 National Archive event in which Trump announced the 1776 Commission. This was an event that included noted conservative historians Wilfred McClay and Allen Guelzo. It was at this event that Arnn announced McClay was moving from the University of Oklahoma to Hillsdale.

Dr. Carol M. Swain: She is a retired Princeton and Vanderbilt political scientist. She is an open critic of the Black Lives Matter movement and once compared it to the Ku Klux Klan.

Brooke L. Rollins: She currently services as the acting director of United States Domestic Policy Council in the Trump administration and is a strong advocate of criminal justice reform.

Vincent M. Haley: A Trump policy adviser who worked as “Vice President” for “Special Projects” at Newt Gingrich Productions.

Victor Davis Hanson: Former Classics professor at California State University, Fresno. He is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a conservative writer, and Trump advocate.

Phil Bryant: Former Republican governor of Mississippi.

Mike Gonzalez: Senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and critic of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project.

John Gibbs: Trump nominee for U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He is a conservative pundit who has spread the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was part of a satanic cult.

Scott McNealy: A Nevada businessman and Trump supporter who describes himself as a “raging capitalist” and libertarian.

Gay Hart Gaines: Republican activist, former president of the Palm Beach Republican Club, and a member of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Ned Ryun: The son of runner Jim Ryun, conservative activist, and self-proclaimed historian

Charles Kirk: Court evangelical, co-founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center, and a pro-Trump social media hound. Does not have a college degree.

Peter N. Kirsanow: Ohio lawyer, conservative writer, and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Charles R. Kesler: Government professor at Claremont McKenna College and editor of Claremont Review of Books.

Dr. Thomas K. Lindsay: Fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Jerry C. Davis: President of evangelical College of the Ozarks in Missouri, a college that requires all students to take courses in “patriotic education and fitness.”

Michael Farris: Virginia lawyer who founded the Home School Legal Defense Fund and Patrick Henry College in Purceville, VA.

Bob McEwen: Former member of the House of Representatives from Ohio and friend of Liberty University.

Ed Ayers on what COVID-19 has revealed about the state of digital history

According to the University of Richmond historian Ed Ayers, “the sudden transition to online schooling has shone a light on the state of digital history.” He adds: “What we’ve seen hasn’t been very encouraging. Can we do better?”

Here is a taste of his piece at Medium:

We are awash in sources, networks, processing power, devices, and tools that enable projects that were beyond imagining in the days of modems, AOL, and CD-ROMs. The commercialization of digital resources for genealogy has produced millions of census records and newspapers, many behind paywalls, that we have barely begun to explore. But that very convenience, ironically, has removed some of the tension between tradition and innovation that generates creativity. Students today can simply cut and paste ubiquitous images and texts into free presentation software; they can copy video and audio into their own slick productions. These methods use digital means to replicate traditional forms of history, bound by the same periods and people, framed by the same labels and questions.

The digital has been thoroughly domesticated and commercialized, its disruptive potential removed. It’s enough to drive some young people to older analog forms they find more intriguing and satisfying. As they seek out vinyl, write in journals, and explore chemical photography, they seem to understand, as scholar Stuart Dunn has explained, that “the digital is a prism through which we see and experience the human record past and present, not a window.”

Read the entire piece here.

Sam Wineburg on how anti-Blackness gets whitewashed in U.S. history textbooks

Yesterday Stanford’s Sam Wineburg, author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts and Why Study History (When It’s Already on Your Phone), dropped an amazing Twitter thread on race in American history textbooks. Here it is:

Listen to our interviews with Wineburg in episodes 52 and 4 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

How textbooks taught white supremacy

Historian Donald Yacovone of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research is writing a book titled “Teaching White Supremacy: The Textbook Battle Over Race in American History.” Here is a taste of Liz Mineo’s interview with Yacovone at The Harvard Gazette:

GAZETTE: How did you start examining history textbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries?

YACOVONE: I had begun a different book about the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the Civil Rights era. I had spent several months at the Houghton Library before it closed down. When I was nearly finished with one particularly large collection, I wanted to take a break and find out how abolitionism had been taught in school textbooks. I thought this was going to be a quick enterprise: I’d go over to Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education, take a look at a few textbooks, and keep going. Imagine my shock when I was confronted by a collection of about 3,000 textbooks. I started reviewing them, and I came across one 1832 book, “History of the United States” by Noah Webster, the gentleman who’s responsible for our dictionary. I was astonished by what I was reading so I just kept reading some more.

In Webster’s book there was next to nothing about the institution of slavery, despite the fact that it was a central American institution. There were no African Americans ever mentioned. When Webster wrote about Africans, it was extremely derogatory, which was shocking because those comments were in a textbook. What I realized from his book, and from the subsequent ones, was how they defined “American” as white and only as white. Anything that was less than an Anglo Saxon was not a true American. The further along I got in this process, the more intensely this sentiment came out, I realized that I was looking at, there’s no other word for it, white supremacy. I came across one textbook that declared on its first page, “This is the White Man’s History.” At that point, you had to be a dunce not to see what these books were teaching.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton opposes “cancel culture.” Unless, of course, it is the 1619 Project

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I just learned today that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is trying to pass legislation to prohibit schools from using federal funds to teach the New York Times‘s 1619 Project. (If you are unfamiliar with the 1619 Project, read our coverage here. We’ve collected most of the pertinent articles).

This week I am doing Q&A sessions with about 100 hundred high school teachers enrolled in my Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History course on British North America. They are watching a series of lectures I recorded with Gilder-Lehrman back in 2015 and I am meeting with them live via ZOOM to answer their questions.

Yesterday, we talked about the colonial Chesapeake and, as might be expected, most of the conversation revolved around race, slavery, and the 1619 Project. My comments about the Project focused on several points:

  1. The 1619 Project has some serious historical problems, especially in its claim that the American Revolution was primarily about preserving slavery.
  2. We cannot ignore the relationship between slavery, race, and the American founding. (Several teachers, for example, had read Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery–American Freedom).
  3. We should not hesitate to use the 1619 Project in our classrooms if we think it might help students understand issues of systemic racism.
  4. Very few essays in the 1619 Project are written by historians.
  5. The claim that the 1619 Project should be the final word in the classroom concerning the subject of slavery, race, and the historical roots of American identity is a claim that is insulting to history teachers. Which leads me to my final, and most important point:
  6. Much of the debate over the 1619 Project in the classroom fails to grasp the nature of good history teaching. While citizenship and equitable coverage is certainly important, the primary goal of the history classroom is to get students to think and read historically. This requires a sensitivity to bias, context, authorial intent (sourcing), close reading, and complexity. As Sam Wineburg says in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, students should not only learn what a document is saying, but also what a document is doing. If this is our goal, then why should we be afraid of the 1619 Project? Use it in class, interrogate it, and teach your kids to read it like any good historian would read a document.

Read Cotton’s “Saving American History Act.  Here is an opinion piece at Forbes.

How One Middle-School History Teacher is Staying Connected With His Students

Matt Lakemacher is a longtime reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home and a “graduate” of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute Princeton Seminar. He teaches history at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL. Some of you may recall his dispatches from the 2019 meeting of the American Historical Association.  Read them here.

I have enjoyed watching Matt’s efforts to stay connected with his 7th-grade students during the quarantine.  Here is his latest video:

Check out Matt’s YouTube page.

Out of the Zoo: National History Day

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Messiah’s state qualifiers. Photo by Chloe Kauffman.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about her experience at this year’s regional National Day competition–JF

National History Day is a non-profit organization that encourages thousands of kids to engage with the past each year. Students pick a topic connected to an annual theme, research it for several months, and then find some creative way to present their findings to the public–through an exhibit, performance, documentary, website, or paper. Students who put together a particularly excellent project can proceed to the regional, state, or even national levels of the competition. Every year, Messiah College hosts one of the 12 regional NHD contests in the state of Pennsylvania. Messiah students, professors, and community members all pull together to evaluate the several hundred projects that come through the doors in what feels like a big history pep rally. To read what I wrote about NHD last year, click here.

I love National History Day for a lot of reasons. For one, it gives kids the chance to research something they’re passionate about. Competing in National History Day also introduces students to the kind of history that involves active inquiry and detective work, rather than monotonous memorization of names and dates. It allows students to explore the past in a creative, active way. National History Day shows middle and high school students that history is not a closed issue–it is something that is continually done and redone, with real relevance to the present. On top of all this, NHD gives Messiah’s history department the opportunity to reach hundreds of members of our community.

National History Day also gives me a glimpse of what my life might look like in a few years. The day before Messiah hosted its History Day competition last week, I sat on my dorm-room floor and read through the eight junior (middle school) research papers that I would be judging. As I scanned each paper and wrote comments on my evaluation sheets, I imagined helping my students with their own projects someday. I imagined advising them on their topic choices, pointing them towards primary sources, and encouraging them to research what they’re passionate about. The next day, as students and their families buzzed around Boyer Hall and the High Center, I pictured corralling my students and making sure they get to their judging sessions on time. As one teacher excitedly knelt in the aisle to photograph his students when their names were announced at the awards ceremony, I imagined cheering at the top of my lungs in support of my own students’ success. 

Judging NHD is helpful for me–and for any future history teacher for that matter–because it reveals the many challenges students face when doing their own research. It allows me to brainstorm ways I’ll encourage and push my students to try their hardest and to engage in the historical process in the future. It forces me to think about what I’ll say to my students when they’re frustrated or discouraged or feel like giving up. I even started a list. It’s far from complete, but here’s what I have so far:

  1. Research is hard. It can be frustrating sometimes. Some days you will spend hours looking for a source that isn’t there. Other days you might spend thirty minutes rewriting the same sentence over and over again before it sounds right. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad researcher or a bad writer–it’s all part of the process.
  2. History isn’t just about reporting facts–it’s about telling stories and analyzing those facts.
  3. When you come to the end of a research project, you’re now the expert on your topic. You now know more about some area of history than 99% of the rest of the people in the world. No matter where you end up placing in the competition, that’s something to be incredibly proud of!
  4. And most importantly: practice makes perfect.

A Virginia History Teacher Brings the Fire!

Phil Strunk was asked to give an “Ignite Talk” at recent meeting of the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.  I’d say he nailed it. By the way, did I mention he is a former of student mine at Messiah College?

Here is Phil’s setup on Facebook:

At the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) conference, I was approached on the Sunday asking if I would be interested in doing an Ignite Talk on Tuesday. Ignite Talks have twenty slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, and the speaker is able to talk about something they are passionate about. I said yes to the opportunity! Below is my Ignite Talk, I’d love for you to check it out!

The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis: Building Bridges Between Historians and K-12 History Teachers

Classroom_at_Gaylord_Opryland_Resort_&_Convention_CenterSari Beth Rosenberg is writing for us this weekend from Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  She is a U.S. history teacher and writer in New York City. Sari helped write the new social studies high school curriculum for the New York City Department of Education and is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society. Her bylines include the #SheDidThat series for A&E Television Network/Lifetime, TheProgressive.org, PublicSeminar.org, and PatriotNotPartisan.com. Some of her recent media appearances include TheSkimm’s 2018 GOTV series and Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum.”  Follow her on Twitter. Enjoy her post!  –JF

Nearly twenty years ago, I was a participant in several Teaching American History Grant (TAHG) programs, as well as the coordinator for one designed for New York City elementary school teachers. Thanks to this federally-funded program (defunct since 2012), history teachers, like myself, worked with historians for the sole purpose of improving their content knowledge as well as pedagogy. I still integrate many of the documents and practices from my TAH days into my lessons. Most importantly, TAH played an integral role in bringing together historians with K-12 history teachers, an important partnership that is missing in the field today.

Although there has been an increasingly robust conversation around this topic in the Twitterverse, I was excited to attend an IRL discussion on Sunday, January 5th at 8:30AM at the AHA conference. Organized by the AHA Teaching Division, “The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis” panel was chaired by Joe Schmidt (New York City Department of Education) in conversation with Trevor Getz (San Francisco State University), Christopher Martell (University of Massachusetts Boston), and Judith Jeremie (Brooklyn Technical High School). I left the session determined to redouble my efforts in finding more ways for historians and history teachers to join forces in meaningful ways.

Chris Martell’s Two-Way Bridge Between Historians and Teachers 

I have been a longtime fan of Chris Martell’s efforts to actively connect historians with history teachers on Twitter. Based on his paper, “A Two-Way Bridge: Building Better Partnerships between Historians and History Teachers/Teacher Educators,” Martell’s main message was that we need to move from historian/history teacher interaction to collaboration. That means we need to start presenting at each other’s conferences and utilize more digital platforms for sharing our resources and teaching strategies. He began by discussing how there are a few thousand self-identified historians and professors in the United States, but there are currently 1.1 million elementary school teachers. These educators are often overlooked when we talk about who teaches history. Meanwhile, beginning in 2008, we have experienced the steepest decline in history majors. Considering that 18% of 300,000 history majors report they wish to pursue careers in K-12 education, this does not bode well for the future of public education. How do we stoke the flames of enthusiasm for the study of history?

Martell’s answer is to partner history teachers with historians. In his studies, he found that K-12 history teachers often struggle to keep their content updated with the latest research and struggle to find helpful resources. They find historians inaccessible, most school-based professional development is not focused on content, and most of the history journals are not open-sourced. Martell realized that social media has become the new territory to best improve interactions between historians and history teachers. In response, he started a social media campaign, #BridgingHistoriansandTeachers, to get historians and history teachers to follow one another. It has been an effective venture thus far. In thirty days, Martell followed 42 historians. 33 of those historians followed him back and promised to follow back any K-12 historians who followed them. If Martell’s initiative continues, he hopes that historians and educators can learn about each other’s work and engage in meaningful conversations about classroom activities. He also emphasized the need for more PD opportunities that link content and pedagogy so teachers can actually implement the material in their respective classrooms. He cites the University of Massachusetts Boston/ Boston Public Schools model as one to which we should emulate.

Joe Schmidt’s Passport to Historian-History Teacher Collaboration

Next to speak on the panel was Joe Schmidt (“History Education and the Passport to Social Studies: Historical Thinking and the Creation of a District Curriculum”). He explained that he views curriculum and curriculum development as an important forum for teachers and historians to work together. (Disclosure: I know the benefit of this work firsthand, as I have been on the curriculum writing team since 2015). That has been a major part of the model for the New York City Department of Education teacher-created curriculum. After sharing the mind-blowing fact that 1 of 300 Americans sit in a New York City public school classroom every day, Schmidt shared the process in creating the Passport to Social Studies, the NYC DOE teacher-created curriculum aligned with the 2014 NYSED Social Studies framework as well as the New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence. So far, the Social Studies team has created curriculum for K-10 (45 unit guides total).Grades 11-12 are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Schmidt shared that the key to creating the curriculum was a shift to focusing on pedagogical content knowledge, where history educators translate historical research results into developmentally-appropriate material for students. Therefore, a major change in the new curriculum is a greater focus on historical thinking as the foundation, not having students memorize a laundry list of facts. To help teachers and students with this change, Schmidt and the curriculum team created a series of Historical Thinking Skills Tools. These one-to-three page organizers help scaffold students work with  historical concepts, including “Continuity and Change Over Time” as well as “Turning Points.” For example, the Turning Points Tool allows students to not just say why a particular moment was a turning point, but it also challenges them to unpack if it was a turning point and the implications of this in history.

Aside from bridging the work of historians into the curriculum used by history teachers, Schmidt hosts a series of History Book Talks, open to all New York City social studies teachers. Over the years, he has invited many high-profile historians, including Joanne Freeman, Kevin Kruse, Julian Zelizer, and Kevin Gannon, to discuss their work with history teachers, often resulting in a lively Q&A, where both content and pedagogy are discussed. These book talks are a successful model of how to forge connection as well as collaboration between teachers and historians.

Judith Jeremie’s Students Reap the Benefits from Her Work with Other Historians 

A Brooklyn Technical High School teacher, Judith Jeremie shared that “Learning how to teach students to think like historians was definitely a learning curve.” Her greatest growth came from becoming a curriculum writer on the Passport project. She shared that her biggest challenge is to get her students to become critical thinkers. Speaking with historians who are experts in their respective fields greatly helped her with this feat. For example, she collaborated with Trevor Getz, an expert in the field of African history, and this helped her better teach the topic to her AP World History students.

Jeremie shared that attending the History Book Talks, organized by Schmidt, gives her greater depth and breadth of content, while also giving her strategies for translating it for her students so they can start thinking about the bigger picture of history. Jeremie shared her positive experiences using the Tools from the Passport curriculum: “Students loved using them(the tools) and seeing the process, especially if you show them why you are using it. They love the idea that you are including them in history-making.”

Trevor Getz’s Inside Scoop on How the “Economy of the Academy” is Affecting Pedagogy

Speaking of Trevor Getz (“Historians Taking Education Seriously”), he was the final presenter on the panel. As a history professor, he was able to provide more insight as to why pedagogy is often ignored at the university level. He shared that he thought he was a good teacher based solely on the fact that his “student evaluation scores were high.” Getz did not really “engage with history education” until getting involved with the development of the New York City Department of Education Passport curriculum. Only in that capacity did Getz begin learning about backward-design and the other mainstays of curriculum development. He revealed: “We (as college faculty) get very little professional development.” In fact, if a college professor does end up getting sent to a PD in pedagogy, it is punishment for low student evaluation scores.

Getz explained that integral to understanding why pedagogy is essentially ignored at the university level, one must understand the “economy of the academy”: a system solely based on getting your research published, in particular “the monograph.” As long as you have reasonable teacher evaluation scores, your main focus in academia is based around your research. This system makes it so that historians do not value conversations with teachers where they can talk and learn about pedagogy. Since there is little to no interaction between the two parties, the survey courses taught at the college level “deviate very little from high school standards.” For the most part, professors do not take into account what students might have already learned in high school.” What ends up happening is that the history survey courses are a terrible introduction to learning about history on the college level. Getz concluded his remarks with this important point: “Without vertical integration between teachers and university faculty, we do not get a sense of how to move from 9-12 to 13-16 grades.”

Before opening the panel up to questions, and comments, from a highly engaged audience, Joe Schmidt asked each panel member to answer this question:

“What is history education?”

Jeremie shared that it involves sharing how historians write about history as a launch point so her students can ultimately model and produce their own writing.

Getz explained that until a cultural shift happens at the college and university level, professors won’t deviate from the existing system. However, he cited AHA’s Gateway Project as being at the forefront of change.

Martell emphasized that universities need to incentivize history professors to work in schools and make it a part of their work to collaborate with K-12 teachers. However, he stressed that it is crucial to teach content and pedagogy together.

A few other suggestions on how to forge historian/history teacher connections:

For History Teachers: Cold Call Your Local Historian

Schmidt shared that part of his job is reaching out to historians every day, oftentimes cold calling them. Nine times out of ten they respond to his calls. He encouraged classroom teachers to reach out to nearby colleges and universities.

For Historians: Write a Shorter Blog Piece for Teachers

Martell suggested that since teachers don’t have time to use whole texts in their classes, historians can publish a short blog piece when they publish a longer article.

Schmidt added that this is a great idea as long as historians add citations to the abbreviated blog pieces.

The overall consensus among the panel, as well as the attendees, was that forging meaningful collaborations between historians and history teachers is crucial to the study of history. It is our responsibility as educators to do all we can to provide young people with strong historical thinking skills to navigate this increasingly chaotic world. With history as a discipline waning in popularity, it is essential that we find new ways to revive interest in the subject. A synergy between historians and history teachers might be our last great hope in closing the growing divide in America, and the world.

Whose Afraid of the 1619 Project?

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Interviews with historians James McPherson, Gordon Wood, and James Oakes at a socialist website are firing-up the political critics of The New York Times‘s 1619 Project.  The latest to attack the project is Max Eden of the conservative Manhattan Institute.  In his City Journal piece “A Divisive, Historically Dubious Curriculum” Eden concludes:

To understand their country, students should read America’s Founding documents and the works of great figures like Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and grapple with history’s circumstantial and moral complexities—not “reframe” history to make it fit partisan purposes. They should be taught about the moral abomination of American slavery—but not that “slavery is our country’s very origin,” or that its legacy is baked into all our social institutions, allegations that cannot stand up to any fair-minded examination of American history. The themes and messages of the 1619 Project are not only historically dubious; they will also lead to deeper civic alienation. Conscientious teachers should file the 1619 curriculum where it belongs: in the waste bin.

Read the entire piece here.

Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at The National Review, got so excited about Eden’s piece that he quoted the above paragraph at his blog with no commentary.

The 1619 Project is not perfect.  Some of it is not very good.  But why are people like Eden so afraid of this project?  For all its flaws, the themes of the 1619 Project are things that students need to wrestle with in the classroom. And they need to wrestle with them critically.  And they need to wrestle with them under the guidance of a skilled history teacher.  Eden believes that if students read the 1619 Project they will somehow be indoctrinated into a mode of “civic alienation.”  But this is not how a history classroom works. In fact, most good history teachers would find Eden’s piece offensive. Good history teachers teach the past to help their students think critically (and historically) about the world.  The study of the past teaches students how to understand the complexity of the human experience, change over time and continuity, causation, and contingency.  Students learn how detect bias in sources. They learn how to empathize with different voices.  They learn how to read more deeply.  These are the things that will make them better citizens.

I would jump at the chance to teach the 1619 Project.

  1. The 1619 Project forces us to comes to grips with the African-American experience in America.
  2. The 1619 Project appeared in The New York Times and has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Because of the reach of The New York Times and the ongoing debate over the Project, it begs consideration in the history classroom.  Do we really want to pretend that The 1619 Project doesn’t exist?  Do we want to shield students from it? No, we want to engage it.
  3. I would use the 1619 Project alongside primary source and second source material (like the World Socialist Website interviews) to teach my students the skills of the historian.  Instead of telling them that the 1619 Project is good or bad, I want to give my students the skill to be able to draw their own conclusions.

Eden’s piece has nothing to do with the teaching of history.  It has everything to do with politics.

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

Out of the Zoo: “We’re a union just by saying so!”

Newsies

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about one of her favorite movies. –JF

Newsies might just be one of my all-time favorite movies. Starring a young Christian Bale as the fictional main character Jack Kelly, the nearly three-decade old film offers a musical retelling of the Newsboys’ strike of 1899. The said strike, which took place on the streets of New York City in protest of high newspaper prices, ended after two weeks when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst agreed to buy back unsold papers from the newsies at the end of each day. 

The movie, interwoven with a beautiful Alan Menken score and lively dance breaks, throws around a lot of terms like “union,” “demands,” and “scabs,” each of which could easily be heard inside a U.S. history classroom. However, as much as I love Newsies, I must admit that the film fails to explain these terms with any complexity; it does not place them in their broader historical context either. As a musical theatre geek in high school I found it easy to cheer when Jack Kelly and his chorus of newsboys triumphantly sang, “We’re a union just by saying so!” But as a student I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about what a union was, much less how or why it was formed.

Although Newsies might be entertaining, it remains a shadowy fictional representation of the issues that shaped the reality of the Gilded Age. There are far better ways for students to comprehend the complexities of labor disputes than watching Christian Bale dance across a television screen (sorry Disney). Mr. Anderson, one of the United States history teachers at Northern High School, showed me one such way last week when I got to sit in on his class for my Sophomore field observation. Anderson led his class through an exercise that not only helped his students gain a better understanding of unions, but also allowed them to relate the past to their lives in the present. 

Instead of lecturing for days about organized labor, Mr. Anderson provided the necessary historical context–fleshing out the themes and complexities that defined the Gilded Age–and let his students do the rest of the work. He briefly taught about the two prominent Gilded Age unions, but then let students form a union of their own, dubbed “The United Students of NHS.” First, students broke into small groups and listed all their grievances–issues ranged from passing time between classes to club funding. After narrowing down their complaints, the entire class circled up to decide which eight requests they would draw up and deliver to the school’s administration. 

While he raised his voice occasionally to direct attention to the task at hand, Mr. Anderson let his students take the lead in the entire process. When the whole class collaborated on the final eight grievances, students spoke up from around the circle suggesting a procedure or speaking out in defense of one of their demands. While his students engaged in discussion, Mr. Anderson told me that he thinks that students shouldn’t have everything planned out for them. Instead, educators should leave room for learners to experiment, take charge, and figure things out on their own–always taking time to reflect afterwards about what went well and what could have gone better.

I couldn’t have agreed with Mr. Anderson more. His students were passionate and eager to apply what they learned about unions and the Gilded Age to their everyday lives. They learned to cooperate with each other, compromise when necessary, and innovated if their process became inefficient. And all the while they gained an increasingly thorough and nuanced understanding of the past. It is this kind of history classroom, one where students are invested, engaged, and challenged, that I want to emulate someday.

More Teacher Bulletin Boards!

Back in August I asked K-12 history teachers to send me pictures of their Why Study History?-themed bulletin boards.  We got a few takers and I worked-up this post.

I recently received another set of pics.  Julie teaches middle school in California.  Here are her boards and shelves:

Watts 1

Love the Niebuhr quote!

Watts 2

 I need to tell the students  in my “Age of Hamilton” class about this poster

Watts 3

A lot of good stuff here.

Watts 4

I recognize a few books on the top shelf! Glad to see Yoda  is guarding them. 🙂

Thanks, Julie!

A Gun Studies Syllabus

Gun Show

The history website Bunk recently directed me to Caroline Light and Lindsay Livingston‘s “Gun Studies” syllabus at Public Books.

Here is a taste:

WEEK 1

“To Keep and Bear”: An Introduction to Gun Culture in the United States

This week’s readings seek to demystify and question what is meant by “gun culture” and to introduce some popular databases by which gun ownership and gun violence have been tracked and studied in the contemporary US.

Secondary Readings

Primary Sources and Multimedia

WEEK 2

“A Well-Regulated Militia”: Legal Foundations of “Gun Rights”

The week’s readings address the nation’s unique legal foundations, particularly the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, in which a right to “have and bear arms” was articulated, while exploring some of the transitions and exclusionary frames through which “Second Amendment Rights” have taken shape over time.

Secondary Readings

Primary Sources and Multimedia

 

WEEK 3

“To Secure These Freedoms”: Colonization, Slave Patrols, and Early Police Forces

How has firearm ownership and use been protected—or not—via the Second Amendment? Which populations have been excluded from the right to have and bear arms, and in the interest of which power structures?

Secondary Readings

Primary Sources and Multimedia

 

Read the entire syllabus here.

*Why Study History*-Inspired Bulletin Boards

Why Study History

I love it!  High school and middle school history teachers are reading Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past and finding bulletin board material.

Matt, a seventh-grade history teaching in Illinois, posts this (with additional inspiration from Stanford history education guru Sam Wineburg):

Historical Thinking

Here are some pics from Tom, a high school history teacher in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area:

Grayam

Grayam 2

Of course I am not the author of the “5cs of historical thinking.”  That honor belongs to Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke.  But I do write about them extensively in Why Study History?

If you are using Why Study History? in your class this year, or have some bulletin board material you would like to share, I would love to hear from you!

Are You Using the Mueller Report in the Classroom?


Mueller report 2

Over at The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes about how scholars and teachers are using the Mueller Report in classrooms across the country and across disciplines.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Daniel Lynch is a history and social sciences instructor at the private Marlborough School in California, for grades seven through 12. In an Advanced Placement U.S. History course he was teaching, Lynch said he created a lesson on the Mueller report on the day it was released publicly in April.

“Since there was very little time between the release and our class (about an hour),” he wrote in an email, “I decided to make the lesson a review of impeachment and historic impeachment controversies and then transition to the current controversy.”

First, he said, they reviewed the impeachment process and looked at impeachment controversies involving presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. (Nixon resigned before he could be impeached; the other two were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate). Then students began to look for sources on the Internet about the release of the Mueller report and later drew Venn diagrams comparing and contrasting the three presidents’ experiences with impeachment.

“We talked about bias and point-of-view of various news outlets and decided as a class to focus on the BBC’s live blogging about the report as the best source for our purposes,” he said. “For homework, students had already found and read an article from what they thought was a reputable source on obstruction of justice allegations against Trump based on information already in the public record. As a class, we listed the allegations already out there and added details coming out from the Mueller report.”

The students “loved” the lesson, he said.

Read the entire piece here.

Have you used the Mueller Report in your classroom?  Do you plan to use it this Fall?