Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

By Linda S. Levstik ; Keith C. Barton | Go to book overview

Oh, Good! We Get to Argue Chapter 10 Putting Conflict in Context

Viktor Komac, an eighth-grade teacher from Ohio, attended a professional meeting at which the speaker mentioned that American children have few strategies for dealing with public conflicts. Having noticed that his own students had precisely this difficulty, he decided to begin the year by underlining the controversial nature of history and helping students develop skills in conflict management. He began by asking each student to bring in newspaper articles regarding current local, national, or world conflicts. He arranged a large bulletin board with four columns: Conflict, Perspectives, Resolutions, Changes. After students categorized the conflicts they had identified, Viktor asked them to read over the articles and see if they could identify at least two sides to each conflict. Next, students cut out letters to the editor, editorials, and articles representing these perspectives. Small groups formed around each of the conflicts. Their first task was to see if their textbook could provide any background information. The group investigating the conflict over altering an antidiscrimination law, for instance, found a section of their textbook on the Civil Rights movement useful. Another group discussing cutting funding for the arts found information on the establishment of governmental agencies such as the NEA and NEH useful. For the most part, however, their textbooks had little or nothing on their topics. Instead, they had to rely on other sources, especially newspapers and periodicals.

Viktor knew that as his students tried to juggle different sources, they would need help in keeping track of their work. Over the last several years, he had adapted several techniques to help students keep track of different perspectives on controversial issues. Figure 10.1 shows a discussion web used by a group studying the operation of a nearby nuclear power plant. In this instance, the plant had already been built, and the controversy was over its operation, not its construction. As a result, students could go back to old newspapers to find out how the decision to build the plant had been made and what arguments were originally made against its construction. They could then compare current operation with the claims made for the plant in the past.

Viktor also asked each group to fill out two other forms to help students think about the historical significance of current conflicts. On a page headed "What Caused This?", students first identified a conflict and then wrote their best research-based guesses on what they thought caused the conflict. Another page headed "What Might This Mean?" asked students to explain what might be different tomorrow as a result of a current conflict. These two forms required that students infer both historical causes and possible current effects. Later, they compared these hypotheses against actual outcomes

Pro Con
Cheaper, cleaner, power Danger of accidents
Provide new jobs Jobs are hazardous
Safer than mining Too close to schools and houses
Will have safety features Lower value of homes
Saves natural resources No safe way to get rid of waste
POSSIBLE OUTCOMES
With Nuclear Power Without Nuclear Power
1. All the "pro" things happen 1. We continue to use current sources until they are all used up
2. Cincinnati becomes like Chernoble 2. Fuel costs keep rising because resources are scarce
3. Nuclear waste pollutes ground water 3. Scientists fund a safer power source, before resources run out
4. Other power companies go out of business or sell for less
FIG. 10.1. Conflict: Should the nuclear power plant be operated?

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