Proposal to the American Historical Association

Last week I wrote to leaders of the American Historical Association (AHA)—particularly the Teaching Division—proposing that the AHA consider developing “a basic structure for effective history education.” Several wrote back, mostly suggesting that I join the AHA or review previous AHA positions.

However, AHA President John McNeil shared my grave concern about the decline of history education, and he liked my suggested purpose for historical study: fostering judgment in human affairs. AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman agreed with my view that history education must adopt a focus on being “useful” to society.

I hope this might be the beginning of a productive dialogue that considers how the present incoherent mishmash of history schooling in the United States might be replaced with a rational model of instruction. For purposes of discussion, this is the structure that I suggested to the AHA leadership (a framework that will seem familiar to readers of my book Future-Focused History Teaching):

-A coherent and useful purpose for history education (fostering judgment in human affairs)

-An assimilable body of important historical knowledge (that fosters “a sense of history” by illustrating human development through time)

-Identification of key historical tendencies derived from the historical record (that can serve to inform future judgment in human affairs)

-Emphasis on the signature thinking skill of historical study: source analysis (a useful tool for informing future judgment about conflicting claims in society)

-Instruction based on well-established principles of cognitive science (so that instruction is effective, and not wasted).

Might this nascent discussion grow to produce tangible results? The odds are surely against it, but sometimes a logical approach to a compelling need can develop a momentum of its own.

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