Proposed social studies standards view history as one damn thing after another, negate merits of teaching relevance through themes – Dakota Free Press


The proposed social studies standards that Governor Kristi Noem commissioned Hillsdale College to write for K-12 schools in South Dakota include ten “guiding principles for high-quality standards” (see p. 4-5), a set of standards for writing curriculum standards. One of the claims in this brief manifesto is that social studies, especially history, should be taught in chronological order to reduce ideological bias:

Social studies standards should follow the natural order of historical events, moving chronologically as events actually unfold. Themes emerge from this timeline instead of being imposed on it as an artificial lens through which students must learn. Chronological movement through history results in standards that make it easier for teachers to organize their lessons, give students a clear idea of ​​how, when, and why things happened in history, and resist temptation to select facts to fit a preconceived ideology. or story [South Dakota Department of Education, proposed K-12 social studies standards, 2022.08.15, p. 4].

I majored in history at SDSU, but never had the pleasure of teaching history full time. I necessarily integrated history into the activities in which I animated the students when I taught and coached debate, literature, composition and French. I never felt obligated to present historical events in strict chronological order, any more than I felt obligated to have students read the novels, plays and poems that I would assign throughout the high school English curriculum in the order of the years in which they were published. students read The foreigners before Of mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath before In the west, nothing is newand all those before Hamletand the students seemed no more uncomfortable discussing the culture of the 1960s before the Depression, both before World War I and all before Shakespeare’s cultural context of Elizabethan England.

I remember the chronological approach to history in my K-12 social studies class: a little discussion about ancient civilizations, then the hard work through Columbus and the other explorers, the colonization of America, the Revolution, and from war to war until we inevitably ran out of time before arriving at the second half of the twentieth century. The story has only gotten longer since Tom Osterberg worked hard on the pronunciations of wood runner to American Paxit is therefore more difficult for Bob Cordts to travel to Iraq, 9/11, the Great Recession and the coronavirus than it is for Osterberg to travel to Korea and Vietnam.

So I’ve often wondered if history teachers could do our kids a favor by working backwards: starting history lessons with the events that are happening right now, the things that students hear about in the news. Why did we fire chipper missiles at a guy in Afghanistan? Why is Russia invading Ukraine? Why do we hear Congress and the President talking about making more computer chips in America? Don’t we make our own computers? Why isn’t Trump in jail? Investigating such matters of immediate historical importance requires first directly addressing the facts of the news so that we know what we are talking about, and then going back to the events that led to what we hear in the news. Today – American and Russian Adventures in Afghanistan; the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, NATO, World War II and a millennium of Russian history; globalization, Steve Jobs and Chinese capitalist communism; Trump’s tenure in the White House, the 2016 election, and Watergate precedents. Students could learn as much about history if we structured a history lesson around current titles and dug back through relevant past events as they do in the traditional chronological format offered by Hillsdale standards.

The proposed standards claim to allow themes to “emerge” naturally through the timeline rather than through an “artificial lens” “imposed on” the story by teachers whom the standards claim to respect but whom the standards suspect of “choosing the facts to adapt to a preconceived idea”. ideology or narrative” absent from the chains of time. But the chronological approach, while widespread, is itself an artificial lens, a choice made by teachers who assume that the natural flow of time dictates the flow of instruction. The fact that something is natural does not make it right.

Educators around the world debate the merits of teaching history chronologically rather than thematically. Focusing on broad themes, drawing on diverse times and places, can be just as helpful as guiding students through timelines. Colorado history teachers Russell C. Brown and Stephen C. Schell say the thematic approach helps students connect past events to current issues:

A thematic approach to teaching US history potentially eliminates the problem of not studying events of the recent past. Instead of pursuing a linear scope and sequence that might not go beyond Cold War origins, students move from past to present multiple times as different themes are explored throughout the class. For example, if students thematically study a unit on immigration, they will be exposed to debates about assimilation, tolerance, and immigration policy throughout our history. As a result, they can draw parallels between the Know Nothing party of the 1840s, 19th century immigration policies, the Red Scare and fear of anarchist immigrants after World War I, and the contemporary immigration debate. Simply put, a thematic approach allows students to see the historical roots of contemporary events, adds relevance to the material covered, and brings the past to life in ways that the chronological approach fails to do. [Russell C. Brown and Stephen C. Schell, “Not Your Grandfather’s U.S. History Class: Abandoning Chronology and Teaching Thematically,” Organization of American Historians: The American Historian, 2016].

We don’t need to consider chronological and thematic approaches from one perspective or the other; both have merit and both combined can produce good learning outcomes. By rejecting the thematic approach and affirming the primacy of the chronological approach, the Hillsdale standards impose an artificial and potentially unproductive lens on the South Dakota social studies curriculum. By treating the story as one thing after another, to be recited in the same order each time we cover it, the proposed standards rob teachers of valid methods to help students learn the story more effectively.

Related reading: Current standards for K-12 social studies ask students to “analyze how major events are chronologically related and assess their impact on each other.” But this standard is only one of 23 “anchoring standards,” not a “principle” cited to dictate the composition of all standards and the teaching of history. Current standards leave a lot of room for the thematic approach, which research shows is more in line with how we learn:

The view that the thematic approach is more appropriate to learning theories than the chronological approach is essentially based on new findings on learning and memory. The human brain can remember new information in two ways: memorization and meaning making (linking with other information). The first of these, information obtained by memorization is less persistent and the acquisition of this information is not accepted by many contemporary educational scientists as learning. According to contemporary learning theories, the human brain creates a complex network of connections (pattern) between newly acquired knowledge and related information. In this process, information is connected to old and relevant information and increases exponentially. The thematic approach allows students to see these connections by addressing many similar events and phenomena around a central theme (Hopkins, Peters, & Schubeck, 1995, p. 633). Teaching with themes chosen from common concepts and events that students encounter in everyday life could increase the likelihood of remembering new information (Proust’s phenomenon) as well as provide meaningful learning that focuses on main ideas, c ie the overview.

Besides association, the effect of storytelling on memory should also be discussed. In a thematic approach, events that occurred in different eras and regions are taught interconnected. Contrary to what the chronological approach claims, the sequential scheduling of events is not a system that facilitates memorization. Because often the only thing these events have in common is that they follow each other. Although the story told in the thematic approach is temporally and spatially disconnected, it always develops around a certain theme. In the thematic approach, a more familiar narrative is used which is organized in the order of introduction, body and conclusion with a certain beginning and a certain end. This approach increases the likelihood of remembering historical knowledge except for the date and possibly the sequence of events [Ibrahim Turan, “Thematic vs Chronological History Teaching Debate: A Social Media Research,” Journal of Education and Learning, 2020.01.09].


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