Social Sciences Education


English Education Mathematics Education
Social Studies Education Science Education
Propel Home Page

History's Hazzards

History requires interpretation. The following are some hazards that children need to understand.

Inference and bias determination is the ability to read critically and with skepticism. Children should be presented with multiple versions of the same events and asked to write histories to see their own biases.

Multiple valid interpretations require us to accept opinions as legitimate perspectives even though we may disagree and prefer our own or another perspective.

Present-mindedness is the inability to put information in perspective. In the senior year of high school, we think the high school prom and graduation are the most important events in outlives, and we tend to feel the same way at university graduation and marriage. At age 60, we reflect on those events with greater objectivity and often recognize that we were caught up in the times. Children can be asked to write their own histories or chronologies and to rank events and predict what future events might be more important.

Historical projection is the shortcoming of judging historical events by today’s standards because we lack the skill of perspective taking—that is, seeing events as the people in their and place saw them (Barton, 1997b). This problem plagues adults as well as children. As an example, historian Joan Hoff Wilson (1976) states in an American history textbook that “the American Revolution produced no significant benefits for American women” (p. 387). However, there is considerable evidence that the Founders’ beliefs regarding women’s constitutional rights were advanced for their time. A number of changes were introduced in America at the end of the Revolution that advanced women’s rights beyond those of European countries. Women were given the right to inherit; property could be subdivided to provide for inheritance to the spouse instead of being left only to the first-born male (Salmon, 1986); and the divorce laws were liberalized for the benefit of women (Basch,1995). One can only wonder what historians of the future will write about us if they were to apply their values, norms, and standards to our time.

Multiple causation is the principle that there is almost never a single cause of an event. Edward Gibbon (1734–1798), the author of the famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, conceptualized historical changes as having three primary causes: technological improvements; economic, legal, and political development; and cultural achievements. As a bridge to a historical event, children can be asked to identify multiple causes, beyond the amount of time spent studying, of why one student does well on a test and another does not. Fundamental Social Studies Modes of Reasoning. During social studies instruction, students should come to adopt an academic disposition that leads to the use of the following modes of reasoning.

Openness to new information. Students (adults, too, for that matter)often resist the reassessment of ideas and beliefs when confronted with new information because of the human desire to maintain stability. Because knowledge should always be thought of as tentative—because it is always changing—the teacher must model enthusiasm for the discovery of new facts and ideas and openness to changing personal beliefs. For example, lower elementary students are often taught the grade-appropriate idea that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation “freed the slaves,” and Lincoln is placed on a pedestal (rightly deserved for reasons too lengthy to go into here). Later they must learn that the Emancipation Proclamation was actually a political, tactical maneuver that did not free slaves in the Union states and freed only slaves in parts of the Confederate states not yet under Union army control.

Cautious reliance on experts. In contemporary cultures, the vast amount of knowledge has produced specialization and multiple sources ranging from the unregulated Internet to such extraordinary scholarly books such as 1491 (Mann, 2005). Accepting that we can know only so much about any topic also forces us to choose among the opinions of experts. Students must learn to question what they read and look for bias. Teachers are also viewed as authorities by students, and it is a positive sign if your students even question a statement you make! As an example, some teachers feel very strongly about saving the rain forests or perhaps the construction of a Wal-Mart because of its impact on a community. It is essential that you present a balanced perspective and give the students the tools to make up their own minds about the issue.

Recognition of subjectivity. Excellent social studies professionals feel a duty to report facts and applications of concepts as distinct and separate from their conclusions and generalizations so that others can better evaluate any intentional or unintentional bias. There are typically four kinds of bias that students should learn about.

  1. Bias based on sources: All knowledge has one or more sources. Observers and participants left conflicting accounts of Charlemagne’s coronation and the Boston Massacre. Recognizing the bias of sources is critical to forming accurate concepts.
  2. Bias based on method: Lack of attention to detail can create inaccurate concepts. When teaching about the American Revolution’s rallying cry of “Taxation without representation,” many teachers fail to explain that Great Britain’s members of Parliament were expected to represent the interests of the entire British Empire, not just of specific district or region, so the colonies were arguably as well represented as all other segments of the British Empire.
  3. Bias based on prior knowledge: People evaluate each new fragment of information in the context of their existing ideas and beliefs. People have both emotional and intellectual attachments to beliefs and ideas that can cause them to be less than objective. When a teacher is presenting a legal education lesson on driving under the influence, the thinking and concept formation of a student whose relative was killed by a drunken driver will be challenged to consider new ideas very differently than those of a student whose relative is in prison for a DUI conviction.
  4. Bias based on secondhand information: Most of what we know we learn secondhand. You learn about the Magna Carta, but you weren’t there at its creation. You learn about Australia, but you probably have not visited the continent, although you may have read about it or seen it on TV. Your parents tell you not to play with matches in the hope that you won’t learn about fire the hard way. Reasoned trust in secondhand information is essential: Skepticism, however, is an equally important virtue.

Source:Teaching Elementary Social Studies: Strategies, Standards, and Internet Resources by James A. Duplass, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2008


History Home Page

Geography Home Page

Sunshine State Standards- History

History Web Resources

History Assignments

Sample History Textbook Content

History Perspectives

History's Frameworks

Hazards of History


Era 1
Era 2
Era 3
Era 4
Era 5
Era 6
Era 7

Era 8
Era 9

Era 10


Standard 1: Chronological Thinking

Standard 2: Historical Comprehension

Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Standard 4: Historical Research Capabilities

Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

NCSS Recourse

The NCSS Themes of Social Studies

The NCSS Democratic Beliefs and Values

The NCSS Essentials of Social Studies Education