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