Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teaching History: Categorical or Chronological?

There are essentially two models of history curriculum design: chronological and categorical. For the sake of ensuring everyone is on the same page we will define these two terms quickly. Curriculum design that is done chronologically is the typical method as events, people, and dates occur in the order in which they happened. Curriculum that is categorical is broken up according to major themes (government, human rights, etc.). Both have positives and negatives as any curriculum does yet I have never heard any discussion take place as to which is more effective at teaching kids history. It often results in an “I prefer this” or “I prefer that” discussion that focuses on how the teacher thinks rather than the student learns.

The implications of this information are crucial to history teachers throughout the country. Given that we spend time discussing important issues in US history, it would be nice to have data-driven proof as to what the best way to go about providing the information is. I would hypothesize that most districts (including mine) have curriculum set up in the traditional framework (chronological).

Consider this when you are teaching the Constitution next year. The one unit that I teach that I would label as “categorical” is the Constitution. I go back to ancient Greece and Rome to discuss influences on the belief systems of the founding fathers that influenced the major documents in United States history. Then we go through an evolution of the Constitution including discussion of major Supreme Court cases and the importance of each of the amendments. I also revisit these amendments when I get to their point in the traditional curriculum. It would be impossible to teach the Civil War and Reconstruction without discussing the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. I find that this leaves students with a greater understanding of the importance of the Constitution and how it influences their daily lives.

My point is this: we need to find out the best way to present history to kids on a macro (curriculum) as well as micro (instruction) level. The faster we come up with this information, the easier the time we will all have in engaging kids and providing them with the means of instruction that best fits THEM.


This Post written by Aaron Eyler
for more information about Aaron, visit his "21st Century Education" blog at http://stretchourminds.blogspot.com/


Friday, May 22, 2009

Links to History: Memorial Day Tribute

BackStory with the American History Guys (backstoryradio.org) is a call-in radio show that brings a historical perspective to every day happenings. U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh discuss current events from a historical perspective.

On Memorial Day, BackStory will pay public tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for our country. The people that should be remembered and revered more than three or four days a year. The focus will be on the changing attitude of America towards dying. The program features an interview between historian and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, and BackStory co-host Ed Ayers.

Interested in how to listen to BackStoryRadio?

Though BackStory is produced monthly and can be heard on a select number of radio stations around the country, the best way to hear the broadcast is to sign up for their free podcasts.

Signing up for the podcast will get you the newest episode delivered directly to your computer as soon as it is completed. For more information about how to subscribe to the free podcast Click here.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Favorite American Quote Winner

Several weeks ago I asked my readers to contribute their favorite quote from American history. I promised I'd choose my favorite from the list and highlight it in a future post. This... is that future post.

I'd first like to thank those of you that contributed. We had about ten participants and about 15 submissions.

My favorite of the bunch was from the anonymous contributor 'boldlygo', who submitted a great Abraham Lincoln quote from a letter Lincoln wrote to Union General George McClellan.

"If you don't want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while."

That said, here's a little history of that quote...

Lincoln, was known as a micro-manager. During the war he could hardly keep still and was constantly getting his hands dirty in the details of the war. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln, Lincoln would often "get himself to the battlefield to visit the soldiers, walk amidst their ranks, [and] see the wounded in the hospital."Abraham Lincoln would often walk amongst the soldiers during the Civil War

The picture to the left is a great example of Lincoln's "Management by Walking Around" concept. A strategy still used today by many managers and supervisors.

His relationship with McClellan was no exception. McClellan was entrusted with the duties of leading the Union soldiers to battle against the Confederates. McClellan however, who's talent was in organization and training, did little more than prepare his soldiers for battle. Lincoln repeatedly urged his General to "engage the enemy" but McClellan claimed he needed more men, more munitions and more time. And with Lincoln's aforementioned want of total control Lincoln asked for control of the Army of the Potomac in March of 1862.

Lincoln wanted to win the war quickly, and was no longer willing to accept McClellan’s belief that the Union Army "should take their time and use extra precaution". An interview found in Spartacus, in March of 1863, Lincoln said:

I directed McClellan peremptorily to move on Richmond. It was eleven days before he crossed his first man over the Potomac; it was eleven days after that before he crossed the last man. Thus he was twenty-two days in passing the river at a much easier and more practicable ford than that where Lee crossed his entire army between dark one night and daylight the next morning. That was the last grain of sand which broke the camel’s back. I relieved McClellan at once.

Lincoln soon replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside. Lincoln would go on to relieve several more Union leaders until finally settling on Ulysses S. Grant to finish the war.

Other Works cited:



Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Should History Teachers Teach?

The following post was submitted by USHistoryBlog contributor Aaron Eyler.

One of the greatest struggles we have as history teachers is deciding what content to include and what to leave out. How can anyone tell a Civil War buff that teaching certain intricacies of the war are not necessary in a K-12 classroom? The truth is that history teachers, as most teachers, are passionate about their subject and find our curriculum growing on a daily basis despite a static amount of class time. We are beginning to find a need to make difficult decisions about what content is “more” important regardless of the personal connection that we have with it.

This only becomes more difficult in classes such as AP History where students are responsible for taking a test in May based on 500 years of history. If a teacher cuts out the “wrong” content then the students are not aptly prepared. Scores will then suffer and create a potential loss of the program. The question becomes clear: what strides can history teachers, the College Board or other governing body, and districts make to ensure that students are gaining an accurate representation of history without sacrificing teaching important skills in the social sciences like critical thinking?

Normally with this type of exercise we would start with discussing amendments that can be made to policy and passed to ameliorate the problem. Let’s be honest, the different special interest groups that have a stake in social studies curriculum will never agree on how much, or how little, of their content needs to be taught. That’s part of the reason that I marvel at the standards created by the National Council for the Social Studies. I can’t blame these groups. Advocates of each of the special interests (geography, economics, history, etc.) have a very valid point. Kids do need to know the intricacies of each of them, but the problem is, as stated above, we have limited time and an expanding curriculum. (This is also part of the reason why it is so difficult for Social Studies to be standardized tested as there is minimal agreement as to which components should make up what percentage of the test.)

So now what can we do as classroom teachers? The first point is pretty obvious. We need to begin to prioritize our scope and sequence. When beginning a new unit, the first question always has to be, “what do I want my students to know at the end of _________?” This directly follows the Understanding by Design mentality where the assessment exists prior to teaching the unit. I start every unit with a list of topics and specifics that would be labeled “critical” by most historians. For instance, my Civil War unit must contain discussion of Bull Run, Vicksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, differences between the Confederate and United States Constitutions, etc. The problem is when people begin units with the intention of amending the topics based on the time they find themselves to have. This is when important content from the end of units ends up being eliminated. This is where people realize that they don’t have a lot of time left so they teach the Gettysburg address but fail to emphasize that Gettysburg was Lee’s last offensive and the major turning point in the war. To use the coined phrase: learn to think backwards.

Rather than providing straightforward answers, I hope this post has gotten you thinking about what we teach in history class and how we make those decisions. Hopefully, the idea above allows you to have an easier time planning. But the most important outcome of this post is that we start this discussion now before our students are graduating from our schools with a ton of meaningless content and without a full appreciation of the social sciences or a well-developed critical thinking capacity.


This Post written by Aaron Eyler
for more information about Aaron, visit his "21st Century Education" blog at http://stretchourminds.blogspot.com/


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

US History Caption Contest

I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at some interesting photographs from our great American history and have some fun with them. And lately I've been at a loss for entries, while other things occupy my time - so I thought I could leave the writing to you.

Think of a clever caption to go along with this picture of FDR and Churchill. The best caption will have an opportunity to shamelessly plug their favorite blog or website. Good luck!


Saturday, May 02, 2009

General Patton Diary Entry - May 1, 1944

"In spite of possible execution this morning I slept well and trust my destiny. God has never let me, or the country, down yet."



Friday, May 01, 2009

This Day in U.S. History, May 1st.

On May 1st, 1960, Francis Gary Powers was shot down by Soviet Air Defenses while piloting his U-2 spy plane.

Flying from an airbase established in Pakistan, Powers was supposed to take pictures of several top-secret soviet facilities before landing in Norway. Unfortunately, the Soviets were aware of the flights and were prepared.

Their first attempts to bring the U-2 down were with MiG-19 fighters, with orders to bring it down by any means including ramming if necessary. Due to the extreme operating altitude of the spy plane, the MiG-19s were unable to engage but continued to chase it. Finally a salvo of surface-to-air missiles hit the aircraft and it began to descend. Powers bailed out just before a second salvo hit the aircraft and was captured. A pursuing MiG was brought down by friendly fire.

Initially, the United States tried to cover up the incident. NASA claimed one of their aircraft had gone missing, and a U-2 was given a NASA paintjob in an attempt to convince the press that it was operating these aircraft. The Soviets continued to tell the world (correctly) that they had shot down a spy-plane.

The Soviets made no mention that Francis Gary Powers had been captured, and then President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed he had been killed (or had killed himself using poison he carried in a fake silver dollar to avoid capture). The White House issued a statement saying a weather research aircraft had lost its way and that "there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been."

The White House had walked right into a trap, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced "I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well… and now just look how many silly things [the Americans] have said." Not only did they have Powers, but the Soviets had even managed to develop some of the film taken by the U-2's camera.

A very embarrassed White House was forced to acknowledge the spying missions, and Soviet-U.S. relationships deteriorated even further. Francis Gary Powers was convicted of espionage, and sentenced to three years of imprisonment followed by seven of hard labor. He was later exchanged for a captured soviet spy after serving 21 months of the sentence.