Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Just Common Belief

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Just Common Belief

Article excerpt

THAT'S how John, one of the students interviewed by Sam Wineburg and his colleagues for this month's lead article, "Forrest Gump and the Future of Teaching the Past," explains his certainty that there simply wasn't any cause for the Vietnam War. Everybody knows it. It must be true.

John and his peers arrived at this conclusion and a range of others reported in the article by assimilating cultural understandings that were just "in the air." Like the rest of us, they inhale this "cultural curriculum" every day: stories told by friends and relatives, TV series that evolve over the decades, books, movies. All help us define who we are--or at least who we think we are. And the social cohesion these shared narratives and explanations provide--be they right or wrong--is not unimportant. Examining closely what we rarely give a second thought can lead us to new insights.

Wineburg and his colleagues are interested in how these notions affect the teaching of history, for the views people hold collectively about the past--how they explain it to themselves and to others--are central to that effort. Explaining how such views form and why they persist is a matter no educator can afford to overlook, lest we lose the complexity of the lives of previous generations and hold onto just the gauzy Hollywood versions.

But the value of examining the cultural curriculum isn't limited to matters of the past. Sometimes, examining what's all around us can lead to useful insights for here and now--and even for the future. …

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