Where do we go from here?

Hello again. In a blog post about five weeks ago, I raised the question of where to go from here in advancing the goal of Future-Focused History (FFH) education.

In the intervening weeks, I was distracted by technical problems with this blog, the publication of my recent article in the NCSS journal, and personal projects. I’m back now, and plan to concentrate on discussing with you the future of FFH schooling.

Here’s where we stand at the moment. There is the book I published last year that documents the declining role of history education in our schools and colleges and outlines a hopeful vision of historical learning that can be useful to peoples’ lives. And there is this blog, which has been in existence for three months (and summarizes some of the main points raised in the book), and there are the 78 souls who are interested enough in this vision to sign up to follow the blog.

Most blog followers are history teachers, an exceptional group of educators who have moved beyond the concerns of day-to-day classroom survival to consider the fundamental questions behind history schooling: Why does it exist, and how can it best fulfill its mission? I am honored to be in the company of such people.

Over the past few weeks, it’s become clear to me that the FFH vision needs to move beyond theory to practice; teachers want to see a curriculum. Fred, a follower of this blog, wrote, “Mike, so just as an example of FFH, if I am teaching the Age of Exploration to my grandson through homeschooling, how would I implement this system?” 

Veteran teacher Chase Parsley suggested that we try to identify “the principles, cognitive learning strategies, and historical knowledge we think are important (like suggested in the book), and go from there? Maybe… producing some sort of canned curriculum?”

On the FFHistory Facebook page, a thoughtful teacher named Justin Schwenk also asked about identifying principles of history, which are a cornerstone of FFH education. He writes, “Who gets to define…what a comprehensive list of “principles of history” are, and how do we arrange them into a curriculum?” 

The final chapter of my FFH book (most of the book, actually) discusses in a general way how FFH education might be implemented in the American system of schooling. But for FFH schooling to become a reality, it will need a classroom-tested curriculum that features effective lessons.

So, we need come up with volunteers who are willing to pioneer the FFH concept by experimenting with FFH in their classrooms. Some of you have already graciously volunteered to help—which is terrific. But perhaps we need to first identify, as Chase and Justin suggested, a set of important general principles of history that can be incorporated into a history curriculum.

I don’t know what an optimal number of general principles would be, but I’ll make a suggestion that we begin by identifying ten principles of historical knowledge. What do you think? And which principles should be chosen? Well, a sample of six principles, and related historical events, are available on the “More about general principles” page of this blog.

I’ve just added another blog page that lists 23 principles of historical knowledge mentioned in my FFH book, certainly not an exhaustive listing. Please feel free to suggest any other principles of history that you feel are worth consideration.

If we can pin down a suitable list of general principles of history to start with, maybe we could begin to experiment with adding them to the curriculum by next semester. As always, your input is welcome. Nay, it is essential. -Mike

Historical thinking skills questioned in NCSS article by Mike Maxwell

The October issue of Social Education, the official journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, features an article by Mike Maxwell, the former journalist and history teacher who operates this blog. The article is titled “Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion.”

Maxwell says historical thinking skills haven’t lived up to their potential due to two limiting factors: “Useful thinking requires useful knowledge to think about, and historical thinking skills are not exclusive to history.”

To read a pdf version of the journal article, click here.

Blog comments problem fixed (I hope)

Mea culpa.

I just finished a paid session with an expert from WordPress, the company that hosts this blog. As you may be aware, blog followers have been experiencing problems when trying to add their comments to blog posts and pages.

It looks like the problems were probably due to operator error on my part. I didn’t understand the purpose of a default setting in the WordPress application, so I left it unchanged. This setting required those wishing to make comments to first sign up for a WordPress account.

This setting is now disabled, so email followers without WordPress accounts should be able to freely make comments. The reason I started this blog in the first place (rather than establishing a website) was because I wanted a collaborative space where people could work together to advance the concept of Future-Focused History education.

I hope collaboration just became easier. If you should experience any further problems using the blog, please let me know at contactsf@studentsfriend.com. I apologize for any inconvenience you might have experienced, and thanks for hanging in there. -Mike

UPDATE: I discarded two previous posts relating to technical issues, which I believe are now resolved. No need to keep the posts, except that I didn’t want to lose a comment from Byron Thomas, so I moved it to the Sept. 28 post below titled “Whadda ya think about a ‘Future-Focused History Alliance?”

Whadda ya think about a “Future-Focused History Alliance?”

To the followers of the Future-Focused History blog:

I promised to return in September (after the new school year was well underway) to discuss where we might go from here. First, I’m pleased to report that our ranks have more than doubled since my previous report: from 33 blog followers in August to 72 today, some of whom are eager to get to work on advancing the goal of future-focused history education.

Here are my thoughts about the role of this blog (and please consider sharing your thoughts in the comment section below…we’re all FFH pioneers here, and we’re in this together).

It seems to me that this blog has essentially two basic functions: education and advocacy. Perhaps most people who signed up to follow the FFH blog are intrigued by the idea of future-focused history schooling and are interested in keeping abreast of any new developments in the field; these people are tuning-in to the education function. Others—often veteran teachers—are so concerned about the state of history education that they are ready to begin taking action now. They are ready to undertake an advocacy function.

I’ve tried to serve the education function by writing a book, Future-Focused History Teaching: Restoring the Power of Historical Learning, and by starting this blog, which features informational articles about contemporary history schooling and the concept of future-focused history.

Of course, both of these efforts are forms of individual advocacy, but an effective advocacy movement will require forming an organization that can combine the efforts of many people working toward a common goal. Such an organization is welcome to have a home on this blog. 

What about a name for this advocacy organization? The best name I have been able to come up with is “Future-Focused History Alliance.” This could be an alliance consisting not only of individuals, but also of sister organizations that likewise support a goal of useful historical learning. Are you comfortable with this name? Do you have other suggestions?

That’s probably enough business for us to cover in this post: Do we want to start an advocacy organization? If so, would “Future-Focused History Alliance” be a suitable name? 

Please weigh in—your input matters. If there is little interest in forming an advocacy organization, I’ll probably drop the idea. If, on the other hand, we decide to pursue an advocacy function, next we can consider the forms this advocacy might take.

Best wishes, Mike

Biggest challenge to democracy?

“We don’t study history in a way that we can apply it.” This was identified as “the biggest challenge we face in all the Western democracies,” by Jim Mattis, former commander of US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and former Secretary of Defense, in an interview this morning on National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/756976562/a-leaders-job-is-to-set-the-vision-retired-gen-mattis-says

Shout-out from Steven Pinker

Do you know Steven Pinker, Harvard professor and prominent “public intellectual?” His best-selling books include The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Enlightenment Now.

I just learned that he gave a shout-out to the Future-Focused History blog on his Twitter feed. Thanks, Steve.

Could 33 people start a revolution in history education?

Only a subtle revolution, perhaps, when looking at everyday classroom activity, but a radical revolution in terms of the intended purpose and outcome of that activity: knowledge useful in the future. 

The Future-Focused History blog opened for business a week ago, and so far 33 people have signed up to follow the blog. If you received notice of this post, you are among the chosen few. We’re all newcomers here, and I am most pleased to be in your company.

I assume that most people who subscribed to this blog have some connection with history education, and many are probably practicing history teachers who are either busy preparing for the new school year or have already started to teach their new classes. You folks don’t need to add anything more to your plates just now, so I propose to leave you alone until September, and reconnect when things have settled down. 

In the meantime, you might let your history colleagues know about the concept of Future-Focused History—and that you have signed up to follow the blog. If they show some interest, you could direct them to futurefocusedhistory.blog for more information.

I will use this time to explore ways to advance the goal of Future-Focused History education. I plan to share with you what I learned when we get back together in September. Revolutions have been known to begin with a small group of dedicated people. Thirty-three of us might be more than enough.

Cheers, Mike

The Future-Focused History blog is open for business

Pull up a chair, take a deep breath, and contemplate the future of history education. Will it have a clear and worthwhile purpose that people can understand, value, and support? Will it be useful to people’s lives? Will it still be around 25 years from now? If these are the kinds of questions that interest you, you’ve come to the right place. 

Welcome to the Future-Focused History blog

Future-Focused History is the commonsense idea that knowledge from the past can inform judgment in the future, an idea that goes back at least twenty-four centuries to the time of Thucydides in Greece and Sun Tzu in China.

Future-Focused History education calls on history teachers to take charge of history schooling and restore the power of historical learning.

To learn more, to follow this blog, or to join the cause, see the the menu at left—on smart phones the three bars at the top of the page. (Click on the small arrows to expand the menu.) Your comments and contributions are welcome here.