Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

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

Epilogue

Being human means thinking and feeling; it means reflecting on the past and visioning into the future. We experience; we give voice to that experience; others reflect on it and give it new form. That new form, in its turn, influences and shapes the way next generations experience their lives. That is why history matters.

Gerda Lerner ( 1997, p. 211)

As Lerner suggests, history always derives from the present--from the ways in which individuals at a given moment in time reflect on and give form to times past. Teaching and learning history is also about imagining a future in which we understand ourselves and others better, and that is the point of this book. The teachers with whom we have been privileged to work take this task quite seriously. In the elementary and middle school classrooms described here, history is not a grab-bag of tricks and gimmicks with no overarching frame of reference, but an opportunity to reflect on the past and envision the future.

Sometimes people characterize alternatives to traditional approaches to history as throwing open the gates to the barbarians. They fear that where there are multiple "right" answers there are no "wrong" ones, that history becomes a complete fiction or simply a chronological arrangement of ungrounded opinions arrived at by group consensus and used to bolster spurious causes. We take a contrary point of view, arguing that thinking historically is fundamentally about judgment--about building and evaluating warranted or grounded interpretations. History, then, is not just opinion: It is interpretation grounded in evidence--hence the emphasis throughout this book on helping students learn how to gather and analyze information about the past.

Wertsch ( 1998), Seixas ( 1999)

Further, historical thinking and the construction of historical knowledge is a dynamic process that always takes place in a social context. We may make individual sense of the past, but we always do so in ways that are mediated by the cultural tools at our disposal, by the purposes for which those tools are employed, and by the multiple settings in which our sense-making takes place. Among the procedures at our disposal, and one regularly used by the teachers in this book, is the development of a community of historical inquiry. In a community of inquiry, individuals jointly pursue a problem or question, share sources of information, share standards for evaluating that information, build and critique interpretations, and reflect on their findings. Students' historical understandings develop in and are shaped by this community. And their understandings will be different than those arising from more lecture- or textbook-based history instruction precisely because they developed in a context

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