Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences

By Mario Carretero; James F. Voss | Go to book overview

6
Learning to Reason in History: Mindlessness to Mindfulness

Gaea Leinhardt, Catherine Stainton, Salim M. Virji, and Elizabeth Odoroff University of Pittsburg

Consider this list of numbers: 476; 712; 1,066; 1,215; 1,492; 1,776; 1,865; 1,936; 1,9631. To many people it is a meaningless string. To ask a child to memorize this list and to associate a particular list of words with it is exactly what is meant by rote memorization. But consider the last number, 1,963; add to it November 22, and delete the comma in 1963. Then this number becomes different from the rest. It becomes a date. For many Americans born before 1950, it is a date of particular significance and is immediately recognizable. This date produces a rush of memories and feelings of where we were and what we were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. To remember it is not a mindless activity. It is clearly not the number or date that is mindless nor is the remembering of it. The mindlessness lies somewhere else. Indeed, for some the list of numbers at the beginning of this paragraph is a set of rich landmarks in a crowded landscape of ideas, currents, controversies, and events. Remembering them is no more effortful than remembering the route home from work. It is important to know where mindlessness lies so that we may turn to mindfulness.

Mindfulness in teaching and learning is an important goal of education in the United States. It should be the goal of history education as well. However, the movement to teach more than rote memorization to everyone,

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1
476, the fall of Rome to the Vandals; 712, the fall of Seville to the Moors; 1066, the Battle of Hastings; 1215, the signing of the Magna Carta; 1492, the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews from Spain, Columbus' voyage; 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1865, the end of the Civil War in the United States; 1936, the Spanish Civil War, beginning of Franco's rule; 1963, President Kennedy's assassination.

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