Reforming the Teaching History Then and Now (Part 1)


Versions of the Flag

This is a powerful blog I had found after I read about the School As Factory Metaphor article by Larry Cuban that was shared by David Franklin, Ed.D. It’s part of a series of observations that Larry Cuban is using for a forthcoming book.

The article itself explores the different philosophies behind the teaching of history. One powerful point was the distinction: “commemorative version of the past—the familiar “heritage” view–rather than one where students apply historical thinking.”

This is something that indicates that there are powerful narratives driving Conservative Thought that is different from the Academic/Progressive Thought that drives some of the subversive Education Reform Thought.

Those thinkers who are familiar with Duckworth/Bandura’s grit and perseverance studies and Carol Dweck’s Mindset studies and the promotion of the “open mindset” will take issue with a “curriculum focus on successes, achievements, and ideals, on stories designed to infuse young Americans with patriotism and sentiments of loyalty toward prevailing institutions, traditions, and values”.

This kind of curriculum would deny and reject failure and hard work as a factor in success. It also undermines the historical importance of collaboration, communication, problem solving processes, and political processes driving American history and accomplishment. This is a promotion of learning facts rather than encouraging individual thought and inquiry. This “heritage view” of history promotes dogma and the memorizing of dogma. Not to mention, the curriculum promotes a lie.

Secondary School history teachers should offer this article and others from this series to promote discussions in the classroom about the politics of education and learning. It can also explore the meaning of dogma and can explore the importance of “multiple perspectives” to approach truth.

This article can also help with faculty in schools pursuing reform. Some of the educators may believe in the “heritage view” of history education but may not have understood how destructive it can be for lifelong learning goals. Education impacts attitudes and mindsets of students as well as educators.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

The following posts are drawn from my forthcoming book on “Teaching History Then and Now: Stability and Change in Urban High Schools” (Harvard Education Press). If readers want specific citations and pages for quotes, contact me and I will send them the citations.

Both participants and researchers have told the story behind the 1995 U.S. Senate vote of 99-1 in favor of a resolution condemning new history standards produced by historians, curriculum specialists, and teachers.

Senator Slade Gorton (WA) summed up the essence of the conflict over what content from the past should students learn by asking his colleagues:

Is it a more important part of our Nation’s history for our children to study—George Washington or Bart Simpson?….With this set of standards, our students will not be expected to know George Washington from the man in the Moon. According to this set of standards, American democracy rests on the same…

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