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The Problem With How We Teach History

Roundup
tags: teaching, education, history, academia



Rachel Burstein is a Research Associate at EdSurge, where she has contributed to research on both K-12 and higher education. Rachel previously worked in research roles at New America where she studied civic innovation in local government; and at Ithaka where she studied university libraries, research practices and digital initiatives in scholarly publishing. In addition, Rachel developed U.S. history and civics content at IXL Learning and taught history courses at Brooklyn College. Rachel received her Ph.D. in history from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and her B.A. in history from Swarthmore College.

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Working in small groups, students visited each of the sources, organizing their reflections with a graphic organizer. The columns in the graphic organizer grew increasingly complex, starting from a simple observation and ending with an argument.
 

Working in small groups, students visited each of the sources, organizing their reflections with a graphic organizer. The columns in the graphic organizer grew increasingly complex, starting from a simple observation and ending with an argument.
 

Ernenwein’s students—and the teachers that she now supports as the Director of Professional Development at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, North Carolina—are lucky. Not all students have the opportunity to construct an historical account from sources; instead most use sources as supplements to fill in the narrative they’ve already been taught. Sources become an illustration of history rather than a tool for uncovering it.

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It’s now rare to find a textbook that doesn’t include a spotlight on key primary sources. That’s no surprise. After all, primary sources reliably pop up in the state social studies standards to which public school teachers must adhere.

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The problem is that students typically approach these sources with a ready narrative—supplied in increasingly complex forms from year-to-year in textbooks, lectures, and the popular media—and contort the sources that they analyze into that conventional wisdom. The narrative may be perfectly defensible. But, despite forwarding-looking inquiry-based guidelines such as the C3 Framework, students are still often building up to what they have been told is true, rather than finding truth on their own.

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I wish that state standards and standard curricula would free teachers to let students really think like historians in the way that Amy Ernenwein’s lesson on industrialization did.

Read entire article at EdSurge

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