A Vision of History Teaching and Learning: Thoughts on History Education in Secondary Schools

By Yilmaz, Kaya | High School Journal, December 2008 | Go to article overview

A Vision of History Teaching and Learning: Thoughts on History Education in Secondary Schools


Yilmaz, Kaya, High School Journal


This article presents a vision of effective and pedagogically meaningful history teaching and learning in schools. Bringing to the fore the lack of attention to the philosophy of history, the article first explains the philosophical and epistemological underpinnings of history or the perspectives on the nature of historical knowledge on which the vision is based. It then elucidates what goals history education should strive for, what history should be taught, how history curriculum should be developed, what is expected of teachers in implementing history curriculum, and what qualifications history teachers should possess to effectively practice their profession. It advocates constructivist pedagogy and the disciplinary approach to school history, calling for collaboration between education faculty and historians in the preparation of history teachers.

Introduction

Any given vision of history education in secondary and high schools is supposed to draw on philosophy of history, different learning theories, the conceptual and empirical works on history education, and the realities of actual social studies or history classrooms. Therefore, the vision of effective and pedagogically meaningful history education offered in this article is based on different schools of historical thought, theoretical frameworks for thinking about teaching and learning, research findings on history education, and the implications of both theoretical and empirical works for the teaching and learning of history in schools.

A vision of history teaching and learning first and foremost necessitates an adequate explanation about one's philosophy of history as a discipline in that epistemological and conceptual frameworks shape and color one's approach to dealing with issues in history education. Hence, I first define history and then elucidate my perspective on the nature of historical knowledge to provide the epistemological and philosophical basis of effective history education in schools.

Definition of History & the Nature of Historical Knowledge

History, as a term, refers not only to what happened in the past but also to the account of the past events, situations, and processes etc. As one of the disciplines among social sciences, history represents accounts of multilayered and multifaceted human experiences across time and space. Historians try to explain what happened in the past by processing primary sources through such historical procedures and skills as selecting a topic, framing questions or hypotheses, corroborating sources, gathering and weighing evidence, building a thesis about the object of the study under investigation, and substantiating the thesis on the basis of logical reasoning, evidential argument, and imaginative thinking or historical empathy.

History teachers need to have a thorough understanding of the nature of history as a domain of knowledge in that epistemological beliefs affect not only their approaches to reading and understanding historical texts but also their instructional practices (Wineburg, 1991a/b; Yilmaz, 2008a). If teachers lack an adequate understanding of the conceptual foundations of the subject they teach, they are likely to misrepresent content by simplifying it (Wineburg & Wilson, 1991, p.333). As Matthews (1998) argued, if teachers are to make effective curricular decisions in enhancing a deeper student engagement with the subject, they should have well-developed conceptions of the nature of their subject area. Last but not least, the need for protecting students from political manipulations of different interest groups necessitates a satisfactory understanding of the nature of history on teachers' part (Yilmaz, 2008a).

There are two sharply contrasting perspectives on the nature of historical knowledge. These are idealist and scientific views of history. While historians who stick to the former view, history as an art, are called idealist or autonomist, those historians who advocate the latter perspective, history as a science, are called scientist or assimilationist. …

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