As I have said in the past, I will use primary sources in my class often.  With the relative ease of the internet, and the amount of digital sourcing we have, there is no reason not to.  Primary sources are often more interesting than the bland textbooks and provide students with a story to back up the concepts.  These are important for student understanding. That said, there is also a lot of scaffolding that will need to take place if this is to happen.


Most teachers I have talked to use TCI, but I am not particularly impressed with their materials.  I like their use of visuals, but their content seems to be missing what I am looking for when I teach.

I really like digital history and I plan to use the internet a lot in my classroom and for students to use the internet a lot in their homes (if this is possible in the districts I am working).

I hope to be able to subscribe to major historical journals if I have the money as well.

I also want to have a library of books on a variety of subjects from the times I am studying as references for difficult student questions.

I don’t really want curriculum books because I want to develop my own unique curriculum that meets the needs of my students.  I will probably just use the textbook as a jumping off point and use technology like the internet to help further my studies in this regard.

Mitt Romney had this to say about optisism in our country:

I think it is political pandering like this that makes the majority of Americans tired of hearing about how “great” America is.  Everyone knows that there is a dark side to American history as well, but who is telling that story? It was questions like this that began the struggle and discussion of how to best present the dark side of history.  The dark side must be presented just as the optimistic side.  I think that we need to be prepared to present both sides of history, with an emphasis that there is a way forward that does not necessarily have to be ‘dark.’

Over at Chinfluenza, I have been enticed and am ordering EIght Eurocentric Historians off Link+ as a result.  Reading over at Musings for peace I was equally interested when I found that one woman was fired for allegedly indoctrininating her students with afrocentrism because of her use of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  You can hear her side of the story at Democracy Now.  With fevers running high because of the passage of prop 8 and other controversial bills, there are plenty of ways to get fired in California.  Having said this, I do think it is valuable to try and find ways to unite diverse views of history, but I am worried when I see teachers being fired over such differences.  I think there is more to the world than a Eurocentric worldview, and is why I push so hard for foreign language skills to become a bigger and more rigorous part of the education system.

I think that diversity, however, is the least of a textbook’s problems.  Textbooks are so watered down and often bland.  I have suggested before that I think now may be the generation to simply do away with textbooks for primary and secondary sources.  Textbooks cost too much to update each year.

In the classroom(s) that I observe, I have found a number of interesting issues having to do with concept-based learning (or lack thereof). My main cooperating teacher starts class with a journal where students explain in a sentence or two what they learned from the class before or from their reading.  They also are asked to write down one question they had from the day before or the homework.  They are also allowed to ask “volunteer” questions on almost anything related to the social sciences.  When I heard students talk about they learned in the class before they are always “facts.”  No students, even in the AP classes, goes “beyond” the facts to some sort of deeper understanding.

In the days where I have watched the class, the teacher gave notes one day to introduce the topic and then students got out books and “worked on terms.”  This is a nice way of saying that students copied words out of books for about 40 minutes while the teacher graded other homework.  On another day, they watched a movie and filled out a chart that showed the similiarities and differences between two characters.  This could have been a movement towards deeper learning, but the students really just turned it in to show “proof” that they were paying attention to the movie.

I wish I could say that this teacher was alone, but in the vast majority of social studies classrooms I’ve been in, at both the junior high and high school levels, there is an extreme obsession with facts (and, resultantly, never ‘moving beyond them’).  In one junior high class, I asked what sort of writing they do.

“We used to do writing,” he answered. “We don’t write anymore because the standardized tests don’t test writing in history.  We teach to the test.  We made it easier on ourselves and lightened our grading load.”

In another junior high class (seperate from the one mentioned above), I tried to introduce two primary documents comparing a Muslim and Christian view of the crusades, and the teacher said that primary sources were “too complicated” for middle schoolers.  I had provided scaffolding for the students by high-lighting and defining important vocabulary words.  We read the document together in class and we talked about what these words meant, and we looked at how these two people saw the crusades differently.  I admit that the kids were a little lost when I started talking about bias, but I was more startled by the teacher’s comments to me after the lesson.

“These are junior high kids,” she said.  “They need something right in front of them. You are asking them to think about subjects that are too complex.  You have to line everything up for them from A to Z.  You can’t expect them to follow you.  This is the type of stuff you do in high school.”

I know, however, from viewing the high school in which I am part of, that primary sources is not even something they really look at in high school.  Even deeper thinking is something that teachers have a hard time teaching.

“It’s like pulling teeth,” another US history high school teacher said.  “I tried to have them do a press conference with major progressive leaders, but they don’t understand how to ask deeper level questions.  When I tell them to ask deeper level questions, they just think that means they should try to stump the candidate with obscure trivia.  So I stopped doing that.”

Instead they do book work.  I wondered why they would think that deeper level questions would be obscure trivia until observing another US history high school teacher who played jeopardy as a review game.  I had never seen the harm in jeopardy as a fun way to review until reading Erikson.  Jeopardy is the epitome of what conceptual thinking is NOT.  Jeopardy thinking is the type that sees a statement and immediately they know there is only one right answer.  This is never really true in life, and the fact that this teacher gives students points and praise for a jeopardy like trivia game goes to show how far trivia has replaced thinking in the public schools.

You can find the important points of chapter five oulined here.  I talk about Family and Social Class (Small Group 5.1) here.  I talk about state testing (Small Group work 5.2) here.  Is there such a thing as a good bad test?  Find out here (Small Group Work 5.3).  Talking about cheating (and hearing one student talk about cheating) can be found here (Small Group Work 5.4).  I personally hate multiple choice tests, and you can find out why here (On Your Own 5.1) and why Calvin doesn’t want you to give MC tests either (Small Group 5.5).  You can learn why I want to use essays in my class often here (On Your own 5.2), but why I will also try to tailor to the needs of the students here (Small Group Work 5.6).

I want to use essays in my class on a regular basis.  I understand that I will have to space out the amount of essays I give so that students are not overwhelmed, but I think that next to speaking skills, writing skills are the most important way for learners to get by in the century.  They have to be able to express themselves clearly. They might not ever use multiple choice tests in the future or the content of the class, but they will use their writing skills.  I would also try to use rubrics in the future as well to provide helpful feedback.  I would definitely grade on improvement.  I think that improvement is not taken into account enough in education.