What is history good for?

Website Article: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-2018/to-chart-a-course-helping-middle-schoolers-broaden-their-vision-of-history

 

The author’s argument: History curriculum should be adapted to the discussions that the generally public are currently working through. History teaching should always make an attempt to connect to the personalities of students and their perspectives.

 

My quick assessment: Well written piece by Lisa Gilbert who has a unique view and experience with teaching history. I would have enjoyed more insight on how teachers can connect different ideas to standards and share additional information on how she assesses students.

 

My rational:

 

Which is more important, students being able to recall a series of names and dates, or students being able to make personal connections with history and historical arguments? Dr. Lisa Gilbert believes that students should be able to do the latter and wrote about broadening historical understanding at the middle school level in her article ‘To Chart A Course” published by the American Historical Association. She has taught at multiple levels of academia, currently working for the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked at museums in the United States and abroad. Gilbert has done an excellent job of showing how students can broaden their view on the use of history and how academic, public, and popular institutions of history can further collaborate. Gilbert explains how her connection with museum curation helped understand that “…people found value in the ways they interacted with history in spaces beyond school-experiences like visiting historic sites, watching films set in historical time periods, and sharing family stories.” These beliefs fit into the philosophy of a public historian, a professional that studies how history impacts people outside of academia. Gilbert has touched on one of the most neglected points in history classrooms in both secondary education and higher academia; history teachers do not spend enough time on how interpretation of history matters. Gilbert’s methods can be commended for the following reasons: connection to current affairs, use of multiple sources to build curriculum, and the personal connections students make to history.

First, Gilbert connects responsible social studies teaching with connecting history to current affairs. This is a refreshing purpose for a history classroom. All social studies teachers should do their utmost to demonstrate how the past affects the present. For example, Gilbert describes how an 8th grade class took a Greco-Roman history survey course and she took the courses curriculum and used it to show students that modern day white supremacist groups use Greco-Roman imagery to support their movements. This is a good example of a teacher considering critical thinking and shows students that even ancient history has deep connections to what is happening today.

Second, Gilbert ensures students learn from multiple perspectives by utilizing numerous resources. For instance, Gilbert used Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s academic article “We Condone It by Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” the gaming platform Ryse: Son of Rome, and Ben Davi’s blog post “The New White Nationalism’s Sloppy Use of Art History, Decoded. These sources are diverse and Gilbert combined modern day resources like video game trailers with more traditional historical analysis such as a deep analytical review of classic work. Students would be enticed by new sources, especially modern ones like video games, and then be further introduced into the field by exploring more rigorous texts.

Third, students make personal connections to historical learning. Gilbert shared a touching story of a “Jewish student who had relatives who were murdered in concentration camps….” when describing how her students made connections with their lives. It is moments like this that demonstrate how a social studies classroom can be a safe place to discuss the real problems and joys of our society. Students can discuss the tragic topics that may have befallen their families or themselves and can see how these issues connect with wider problems across the United States or world. These memories last longer than the historical knowledge that students gain and will encourage them to use history to understand other issues in society.

Gilbert’s pedagogy and adaption of the curriculum should be commended, but there may be some who see the untraditional methods as not being valuable at best, or dangerous at worst. Many traditionalists will argue that memorizing the facts and figures of history will best serve students in the future. Some critics may also argue that in order to make deep insights into historical perspectives, one must first dedicate themselves to memorizing the plethora of dates and facts. Unfortunately for the traditionalists, this thinking is exactly why most students, and American citizens, do not like learning about their history. History is a malleable creation, something that people invented to satisfy a primal need of understanding their surroundings. There always has been and always will be interpretations of history and it should be the job of social studies educators to provide students with the tools and experiences to critically evaluate their past and present. Gilbert has done an excellent job of combining the public historian sphere with secondary education and her model should be shared with as many educators as soon as possible.

2 Replies to “What is history good for?”

  1. Or, better again, students can examine critically the views and sources that underpin these historians’ big arguments, as well as debate all of this material (facts and ideas) with others. Above all, History students expect to study for themselves some of the original sources from the past; and, for their own independent projects, they are asked to find new sources and new arguments or to think of new ways of re-evaluating known sources to generate new arguments.

    1. Dear Freddi:

      Thank you for your comment! Students creating new interpretations of history and how it impacts their understanding is an excellent goal, especially when an educator allows them to use primary sources. Fortunately, we are seeing more organizations create lesson plans that include primary sources and many more guides on how to build them into the curriculum. I believe the main obstacle to teachers implementing these materials is the lack of time and understanding of where to find these resources. I would be delighted to see more time and money being put towards providing teachers the time to actually analyze what is being offered to them and consider how it fits in their curriculum.

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