New History

Ran across this interesting post, “The History Curriculum in in 2023” about needing new ways to teach history.

I agree. Totally and wholeheartedly. I am looking forward to his additional posts explaining the 4 Ms: Making, Mining, Marking and Mashing.

I can’t comment directly on these things, but given the tone of this post and the one previous, “History on Thin Ice,” I think I have a good sense where he’s going.

I have been in the history education biz for 25 years, first as a high school/middle school teacher, then now as a museum professional for the last 20+ years where I’ve worked as an interpreter (taking the public through museums/historic sites), a program and exhibit developer, a website developer, and now as a digital curriculum developer. In the museum world, we frequently hear visitors say  how surprised they are that history is so interesting, because it was so awful in high school!

How do we make history interesting? We tell stories. We make it relevant. We connect people to their history, and help them see how it impacts their world today. We talk about how people lived, what they ate, what they did. We find objects, documents, photos, maps that show real people, telling real stories.

What do I see in my kids’ history classrooms? Tests, lectures, and pages and pages of dense text. This wasn’t interesting 30 years ago when I was in school, and it certainly isn’t interesting to today’s students. History isn’t a multiple choice test — history is people, things, places and stories.

These history classes cover an enormous period of time and an enormous geographic area. There is no room to dig deep, to learn more than a few dates or names of “important” people then move on to the next big war or emperor.

My son’s school is different. To be fair, they are not beholden to the (ridiculous) standards expecting them to teach an unreasonable amount of content. (They also don’t have to give up nearly three weeks for standardized tests.) Instead, they use that time to dig deep. For example, they spent an entire month – yes, four weeks – studying an incident in Minnesota history that very few schools even mention, much less spend time on it. They examined primary source documents, including treaties, newspaper articles, testimonies, court documents and more. They examined reactions to the incident over the last 150 years. They had to take the raw materials of history (from a pool of resources the teachers pulled together – they were only 11 and 12 year olds, after all!) like an historian does, and put them together in various ways to make arguments and present information. I would guarantee you that these 11 and 12 year olds knew more about this incident than the vast majority of adults.

It’s pretty clear which approach I prefer, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming blog posts about how he envisions the new teaching of history!

Aha! Here are the four posts:

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