Empathy, or the ability to read another person’s emotions, is a critical life skill. Many fear children are losing it—and that they’ll be less happy as adults as a result. A University of Michigan study of nearly 14,000 college students found that students today have about 40% less empathy than college kids had in the…
I share B. C. Knowlton’s concerns about teaching college students to really read and understand works of history. He first taught a group of students who needed remedial help in reading and writing. For them, the popular The Guns of August was too difficult. With some help they were able to get through the material but in the end he could not get them to a level of critically thinking about the subject and its significance. The other group of good students were able to read and write well, but they also seemed unmotivated to engage with works of history (or any other readings of substance) on any sustained level beyond their required courses.
Using the case method to teach history, as David Moss is doing at Harvard, is a creative way to engage students. But it’s not as revolutionary as this article makes it out to be. History teachers have used similar methods to engage students for a long time.
Good history teachers are always engaged in the delicate balancing act between content and skills. Unfortunately, the current testing craze has forced many k-12 educators to focus almost exclusively on content, which means teaching by rote memorization. This is unfortunate because what we really need are students who can think critically and who are passionate about learning.
“97 percent of climate scientists agree that human behavior is warming the earth. That’s not question or a controversy; it’s a fact. And surely we need to teach students the difference. Indeed, they can’t participate constructively in the real controversies of our time — about climate change, and everything else — unless they learn to distinguish fact from opinion, and knowledge from belief.” So far we haven’t done a very good job at teaching our students these skills. Given the significant challenges we face in our modern world, and the overwhelming amount of information found on the Internet (much of which is garbage), it is essential that we teach our students the skills necessary to evaluate truth claims.
Sadly, the South Korean government will now mandate the use of their specially created textbook. “Issued by the government, the new books will rewrite history to bolster the president’s conservative cause.”
Beyond the implications for the education of South Korea’s students, this move has geopolitical implications. As Se-Woong Koo points out: “In geopolitical terms, the Park administration is undermining efforts to confront Japan over its crimes in the wartime era, especially the issue of comfort women. If South Korea can promote its own incomplete history among children, why should Japan not be able to do the same and obscure its dark past?”
This is an unfortunate trend seen across the globe!
Some have downplayed the distortions of the Texas textbooks by claiming that good teachers will compensate for the shortcomings of the books. But what if those good teachers are few and far in between? Alia Wong addresses this problem in a thoughtful piece at The Atlantic.
“Perhaps many of these controversies trace back to the history-class dilemma—the reality that its instruction often suffers because of under-qualified or under-engaged teachers who, in turn, rely on textbooks that at best oversimplify and at worst flat out lie. ‘Most history teachers don’t do history, and don’t know how to do history,’ Loewen said. ‘And by that, I mean they were never asked to actually research something. They just took courses with textbooks and that was it.’”
This is a serious problem and we need to rethink how we train our social science teachers. Many of them don’t have the knowledge or the skills to teach history in a way that is both meaningful and beneficial to students.
Another obstacle to the effective teaching of history, not mentioned in the article, but is as equally important is the fact that too many good teachers are forced to focus on content over critical thinking in order to prepare their students for standardized tests. The focus on testing has done a great deal of harm to our education system, and even though many are beginning to realize the folly of this testing craze the so-called “reformers” of education continue to push them.
Please read the important essay here: Lessons From McGraw Hill: The Eurocentric Influence on History Textbooks and Classrooms – The Atlantic
Yesterday was the first day of classes at ASU and I spent most of that day trying to explain to my students why studying history is important. Most of them are freshmen and are taking the course as a requirement, so I’m not sure how successful I was. But I’ll keep trying.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with “Drift and Disorder in World Affairs”?
Polk identifies other important factors that contribute to the drift and disorder of the world, but I find this one particularly compelling. We cannot change what kind of leaders we get if we don’t first change ourselves. We all need to take our responsibilities as citizens of the U.S. and the world more seriously.
Please read Polk’s thought-provoking piece: History News Network | Coping with the Sense of Drift and Disorder in World Affairs, Part 1.
I keep hearing about the coddling of America’s college students, but I’ve been teaching at a major university for almost 10 years and I haven’t seen it. People keep talking about “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions” but it’s not my students. This article in the Atlantic claims, “This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion.” I have not seen this either. There has always been some students who don’t like hearing things they don’t agree with, but this is not new.
Reading the article, it seems that they base their claims on a few extreme examples that are not indicative of the college experience across the board. They also misconstrue the purpose of Safe zones. I’m not an expert on these spaces, but from what I know from students, they are not meant to protect students from confronting ideas and beliefs they don’t like. They are places where students who experience discrimination can go to be themselves without fear of bullying, condemnation, or harassment. They still live in the real world where they are confronted by ideas and people they do not like. Nor are their examples of “coddling” an indication of what happens in the classroom, with a few exceptions as pointed out by the article. All professors that I know respect their students and do not intentionally go out of their way to offend their students, but they have not avoided teaching topics that may be uncomfortable for some students, even if the students feel offended as a result.
And I think it’s unfair to call these students coddled when they are under tremendous pressure to succeed (often defined solely in terms of financial success). They are also under a lot of pressure to achieve perfection in all aspects of their lives, which is in part responsible for the rise in student suicides.
Read the entire article here: How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus – The Atlantic.
“Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by ‘sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery’ — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.” This is what happens when politically motivated Schools Boards determine what children will learn. You may recall the kerfuffle over the Texas state curriculum standards in 2010 and the textbooks in 2014 that led to this version of the Civil War appearing in Texas social studies textbooks. (see previous posts on this subject here and here)
The belief that the Civil War was about states’ rights not slavery might be comforting to some, but that feeling comes at the cost of truth, justice, progress, and everything we hold dear as a nation. How can students understand the present if they have been mislead about the past?