I'm pondering the structure of my history courses as I watch Shark Week, and feeling quite happy that Megalodon is no longer on this planet...
What if there were no narrative to support a high school history class? No book, no textbook, no wikipedia account, no nothin'?
Teachers, understandably 'cause its how we are trained, tend to look at history as a linear progression of events. Start at 1776 and proceed to 1865. When this happens, there is a concurrent feeling that there must be a linear account and description of those events, and those events are written by human beings who have perspectives on those events. "The Founders assembled in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787 to replace the failed Articles of Confederation and compose what would become the Constitution of the United States of America...." Biased language gets used, whether inadvertently or advertently, and decisions are made about what gets included and what gets excluded. Most of those decisions are made by the authors of the texts, who tend to be knowledgeable experts, but sometimes those decisions are made by editors, and sometimes (gasp) by publishing companies, seeking to curry favor with larger states textbook adoption boards...
So what if we left it out? What if, rather than forcing our students to read a pre-digested, biased or boring account, we instead did this:
1) Assemble a chronology of events. This could be comprehensive for the course, or broken down into a consistent periodization. (My reasoning: Dates tend to be pretty free from bias and interpretation...though, yes, the calendar you are using can convey a sense of perspective...) As the teacher, I decide what needs to be on this chronology, working with the standards articulated by my state/my department colleagues;
2) Give the students that chronology and teach them to work with these five Habits of Mind (HOM):
Concern for Evidence (How do you know that? What's "true"/"false"?)
Viewpoint (Who said what and why?)
Search for Connections (What causes what?)
Hypothesizing (What if? Could it have been otherwise?)
Relevance (Why does this matter?);
3) And then ask them to come up with a way to demonstrate that they have found the answers to these questions/tackled the chronology using the 5 HOMs. (Or I could tell them how I want them to demonstrate this understanding, but I think it would be more interesting to have them do it.) They would need to research on their own (again, I could structure this or not) to gain an understanding of the events and their connections;
4) And perhaps also add another layer by asking them to be able to answer some Essential Questions using evidence from the Chronology. (i.e: How does the tension between a federal central government and individual state governments work its way out or not over a 200 year period?).
Wouldn't we then have gotten around the need for a pre-digested narrative? I think so...I will be giving this a try this year, stay tuned!