In this activity, think back through what you wrote in response to the readings and viewings. Write a blog post that lists three or four questions about teaching history (in whatever venue you do or might teach) that you hope to answer as the semester proceeds. Then offer some tentative answers to those questions.
After examining three different methods of teaching history (historical evidence, experiential learning, and uncovering), I basically have many questions about teaching history, but, as requested, I’ll examine three in this blog post
1. What is the point of learning history?
I guess I am drawn to answering this question after years of tutoring students asking me the same thing (about calculus, but still). And no, the point is not so you can pass a course and get a job. If I can’t provide a compelling reason for a student to give up his/her free time and energy, I will concede and agree that there is no point to teaching it. However, despite the fact that I am studying history in graduate school, my answer to this question is still a bit nebulous, and–if I know anything about students–I can’t be hemming and hawing, as it proves that I am not only wasting their time but my own. So far, I just have some defensive mumblings about learning from the past in order to better understand the present under my belt, and I know I can do better than that
2. Is there a “wrong” answer in history?
When I was reading about Stéphane Lévesque’s method of experiential learning, I so often wanted to exclaim, “But what if the student comes to the wrong conclusion?” Then I paused and realized how old and repressed I sounded–telling students they’re wrong and only doing that as a “teaching” method is exactly what I don’t like about some teachers. However, despite my desire to prove a point to every teacher who has ever told me that I was wrong simply because I disagreed with his/her beliefs, I know that there are definitely wrong answers. For instance, I would be horrified if a student cherrypicked evidence to argue that slavery was beneficial for the slaves. That is a very extreme example, but that’s why I think it’s important to establish that there are foundations and why they are important. Conclusions will rarely be so factually and morally wrong, but I do think a lot of conclusions exist on a spectrum, since I think the dichotomy of right/wrong and pass/fail can be unfair. But if teaching, learning, evidence, and experiences are subjective, how can I, as a teacher, successfully argue that there is a “wrong” answer?
3. How can I make history engaging/interesting?
I hate to ask a question that plagues every social media intern (I would know from past experience!) and makes me sound super old and frumpy, but this is the age-old question when it comes to teaching/sharing anything. As I’ve discovered from my time working at the bookstore, with the countless author events I’ve sat through, some subjects are just naturally more compelling than others. World War II spies? People are practically knocking down the doors to attend! An “unjustly” forgotten historical figure? Well, there’s often a reason that this person was forgotten, and if there isn’t, the author needs to make a damn good case why. I’ve just accepted that some lectures on history are more well-attended than others, but in over a year, I still haven’t deeply contemplated why. While even I can’t explain why some of my posts to the Smithsonian Associates page went viral, I need to do more than simply shrug and essentially gamble on the next go. Of course, I’m not willing to stoop to clickbait or outright lying about historical events to make them sound more interesting: if I can’t tell a story without telling the facts, then I’m not a teacher. (Incidentally, this is why I quit the school newspaper at my undergraduate university.) Everyone has different tastes, of course, but I guess the goal is to make someone not only interested but engaged. Subjects can’t appeal to everyone, but they also can’t be inaccessible to everyone. I need to find the right balance so I’m not forcing people to engage when they want to learn about something else but also not giving up on people when my methods are the reason they are losing interest.
P.S. Go back to your blog post from the previous module and add a brief postscript in which you discuss how the ideas expressed in Mills Kelly’s essay on the future of history curricula are (or are not) rooted in the ways historians have approached history teaching over the past century.
Mills Kelly’s essay on the future of history curricula, in a lot of ways, is a rejection of the ways historians have approached history teaching in the last 100 years. Like most modern historians, he is against the boring lecture hall and tests that place rote memorization above critical thinking. However, Kelly goes beyond many “traditional” historians and strongly argues for incorporating digital elements into the classrooms. Unlike people who try technology solely to make history “cool,” Kelly reveals the very practical applications and larger implications of incorporating technology. Luckily, he also foresees the rapid developments in the digital field, and understands that some methods, while they seem advanced and far off, will be arriving at undergraduate classes sooner rather than later.