History isn’t the only incoherent mishmash in American education

An article in the February issue of Educational Leadership magazine has this to say about the Common Core literacy standards, which have been adopted by states and school districts across the country:

“After a feckless decade of implementation, one major study found, the standards have turned out to be a bust. Instead of improving performance, the standards led to declines in literacy.”

“In the heady development phase, there was plenty to like about the ELA (English Language Arts) Common Core….But the actual standards were a disaster: The original anchor standards had metastasized into an impossible profusion of grade-by-grade minutiae….Many of the standards were indecipherable: One curriculum expert called them ‘blithering, poorly thought out abstractions.'”

One could say precisely the same thing about the profusion of standards for “historical thinking.”

When historical thinking skills replaced knowledge acquisition as the primary purpose of history education–and migrated from the history profession to the education arena–they swelled in quantity and pretentiousness. History-education groups released competing lists of various skills that tended toward vague competencies and formless objectives, such as “read historical narratives imaginatively,”or “prepare to live with uncertainties.”

The Educational Leadership article makes this recommendation: “Schools should revise their curricula around radically reoriented, severely reduced norms, specifications, guidelines and exemplars.”

You could say precisely the same thing about history education.

The EL article can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/3bjIO2n

See also: “Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion,” by Mike Maxwell, from the Nov. 2019 issue of Social Education, journal of the National Council for the Social Studies.

Best wishes for the new decade

Will it be another Roaring 20s?
The flapper era brought a new spirit of independence to young women, but let’s hope this go-round is not—like the last 20s—an interlude before a cataclysmic war and a time of stock market excess that brought on a Great Depression. Let’s hope we have learned something from history.

Speaking of useful knowledge gained from prior experience, I recently heard a brief but enlightening (4 minutes long) radio broadcast about what might be “human kind’s greatest strength,” the power of generalization. If interested, click here.

Speaking of the power of generalization, if any of you teachers out there are experimenting with teaching general principles of historical knowledge in your classrooms, please let us know how it’s going. In any case, I hope your new semester is getting off to a real good start. -Mike

Feeling like a pioneer?

For any teachers who might wish to begin experimenting with adding principles of historical knowledge to their instruction, we now have a sample set of 11 recommended principles available for use second semester. Being timeless and universal, principles of history should be suitable for both U.S. and world history courses. (More about general principles of historical knowledge here.)

Early adopters are the intrepid pioneers willing to enter uncharted territory to explore how Future-Focused History (FFH) can be taught effectively.

Teachers who are not in a position to modify their instruction for the second semester of this school year can begin to think about how they can incorporate principles of history next year. To assist with this process, we have added two new areas to the Future-Focused History blog: “Classroom instruction Posts,” where the latest developments in FFH instruction can be found, and “Classroom instruction Pages,” a place where teachers can share their ideas and experiences and assemble a useful collection of knowledge. 

Visit the Classroom instruction Pages for some preliminary thoughts about how to teach general principles of history.

If you are willing to take up the challenge, and plan to teach general principles of history in your classroom, please let us know by adding a comment below or by emailing Mike at max@studentsfriend.com.

Eleven key principles of history chosen by readers

The votes are in. From a list of 38 suggested possibilities, our readers were asked to choose 10 general principles of historical knowledge they considered most suitable for teaching to students in school. Identifying a sample set of enduring principles of history is a preliminary step in preparing to experiment with teaching such principles in classrooms.

General principles of knowledge form the basis of learning in school subjects other than history and in virtually all productive human endeavors. General principles of history (which might also be termed historical tendenciesrecurring patterns in history, or lessons of history) are a key component of Future-Focused History teaching, which is designed to fulfill the fundamental purpose of education by imparting knowledge useful in the future

Four principles of history tied for first place in our survey, and seven tied for second place, leaving us with a recommended list of 11 key principles of historical knowledge. Fourteen people participated in the survey, casting 119 votes. While the 11 leading picks represented only 29% of available selections, they garnered 53% of votes cast, indicating solid support for these choices.

Teachers wishing to experiment with bringing Future-Focused History into their classrooms now have a curated set of general principles they can draw from. Teachers may wish to teach any or all of these principles or to teach other principles of their own choosing. Next, we can consider how principles of history might be taught effectively.

ELEVEN SAMPLE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE CHOSEN BY READERS:

  • Humans have long manifested an instinctual yearning to explore, to learn, and to develop new technologies to improve their lives.
  • People tend to promote their self-interest and the interest of their group, so bias is all around us.
  • Humans tend to position themselves along a political spectrum that ranges from conservative to liberal.
  • Major events usually result from multiple causes, some long-term and some more immediate.
  • Taking control of the media makes it possible to brainwash large numbers of people.
  • When a country’s government is toppled by internal revolution or an external enemy, civil war may break out as factions in the country compete to fill the power vacuum.
  • Humans exhibit an instinct to resist external control.
  •  Humans exhibit a propensity to fear, dislike, kill, subjugate, and discriminate against people from groups different than their own.
  • Government actions tend to produce unintended consequences.
  • Major cultures and empires have followed a general pattern of growth, flowering, and decline throughout history.
  • Mismanagement of the environment will be paid back by loss of resources.  

See also:
Mike’s five additional principles of history
Original list of 38 suggested principles of history
More about general principles of history
The power (and peril) of generalization
“Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion”

Blog followers: We need your help.

Choose 10 important and enduring principles of historical knowledge that we can begin teaching to students in school.

To make your selections, visit this page in the blog’s Classroom Instruction section: “Help us identify 10 key principles of historical knowledge.”

Thanks for your valuable contribution to advancing the goal of Future-Focused History education. -Mike Maxwell