Monday, 17 March 2014

Historical Thinking - Out With a Bang

The federal government's recent decision to axe funding for one of the great bright spots in history education in this country is a damn shame. And the good people over at Active History have decided to not let the program go out without a little more thought and discussion. They are starting a week-long series of posts on the whole project and the controversies it generates. The first post by Thomas Peace is up now.

You can see what the Historical Thinking project was by looking at their website. 

Even thought it is primarily geared to helping elementary and secondary teachers, I found myself over the last half-decade borrowing their ideas and concepts and plunking them down in my university courses. I would begin each class with a lecture inspired by their work - talking about what it is that historians do - how we think - what it is that historians bring to the study of not just the past but to everything.

Then, periodically, throughout the year I would go back to these ideas. Mid lecture I'd find myself saying: 'And this thing here - the reason I'm saying this is because of ...' and then I'd link back to one of the concepts we talked of at the outset of the class.

Much of the debate over the project and its cancellation pits the 'critical thinking' approach of the project against an older style of national narrative. We're expected to see this as an either/or choice of narrative history tied to the nation vs a critical thinking approach that asks us to take things apart.

Stark dichotomies are rarely accurate or helpful and such is the case here. Those who want to tell national stories (and I'm one of them) can't be dismissed as rabid reactionary nationalists and those who want to teach a skills-focused kind of history aren't all loosey-goosey latter-day hippies in the history classroom. I hate to be all middle-of-road compromise about this, but that's where I come down.

There's room in Canada's classrooms for lots of different kinds of history. Perhaps it's not too late to change the funding for the program for future years.

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