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The Problems of a Future History Teacher

As I have though more about teaching history in the California school system, I have begun to see more fundamental problems that plague the system.  Namely: We treat students like they are too stupid to study history like historians.  

When one studies history at the collegiate level or anything beyond the collegiate level, professors rarely use textbooks.  I came across another interesting quote in A Practical Guide to Secondary Social Studies:

States with large populations, such as California, Texas, and New York, influence the entire nation’s curriculum because of the role of textbook marketing.  National publishers want as wide an audience as possible for their textbooks, and a prime consideration is the curriculum frameworks of the larger states.  The process of designing and publishing textbooks is more expensive each year, partly due to the increasing amount of supplementary materials ranging from technology to student tests and workbooks that teachers now want with a textbook… Textbooks are a major determinant of what content is taught at each grade level. We have, in some sense, many of the same curriculum titles that we started with decades ago.  Some observers have called the social studies curriculum a ‘frozen curriculum’ that is not adapting and claim that ata the present rate of change, the landscape will not change much in the near future.

I am of the somewhat extreme opinion that textbooks should be done away with and students should read bits and pieces of various literature from the time periods they are studying.  If they are studying the American Revolution, they should read from those who were the revolutionaries.  If students are studying the Vietnam War, who better to read than the first hand accounts of the soldiers who experienced it.  For the greater narrative, the teacher should choose from experts in the field who have written age appropriate material, and have students read the information from the experts.  

I am of the somewhat extreme opinion that with the money saved on textbooks, teachers could invest in technology like web pages to create an environment can read the majority of what they need to read online. High school teachers are foolish not to use the wealth of primary sources already on the internet.  

I am of the somewhat extreme opinion that if teachers challenge their students to read higher level information at the high school level, students will begin to work harder because they know their teachers expect more.  

I hope that I am not proved wrong by my youth.

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4 thoughts on “The Problems of a Future History Teacher

  1. I don’t think that’s too extreme — quite a few people recommend using primary/original sources to study history. In my AP History class in high school, we had a standard textbook, but the teacher taught more from primary sources and taught us to actually THINK about what we were reading.

  2. I think you’re really on to something. One of the best undergrad History classes I took used a similar approach to what you’re describing. We were studying German History backwards, from reunification (1990) to unification (1871), and in doing so, we looked at literature, visual arts, and music in addition to the standard date/fact approach. It was quite excellent.

  3. Your post really inspired me to improve how IO teach high school history. What are your thoughts on testing/assessing high school history students?

  4. Hi jt,
    I must first admit that I am just starting the credentialing program, and as such I have little experience actually in the classroom. I think there needs to be a resurgence of oral testing in the form of oral presentations. I think there also needs to be a resurgence in students doing their own original research (nothing too complicated, but it should be a standard part of history classes) where they have to look outside of a textbook for answers. I just think textbooks constrain students so much. Written and oral work will provide the backbone of my assessment. My tests will all be fill in the blank, but I will give students all the answers before the test on a monday (if the test is on a friday). I want them to do well on tests by being able to prepare and know exactly what is on a test. If they are going to study and prepare for something, I want it to be for a research project or an oral presentation (something that will encourage their writing/speaking/knowledge of history) rather than rote repeating of answers from a textbook.

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