Unlocking History's Trove: Presidential Library Web Sites Offer Powerful Education Opportunities. (the Online Edge)
Dyrli, Odvard Egil, District Administration
How educationally valuable would it be if your teachers and students could gain access to six boxes of formerly classified presidential documents kept locked in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's White House safe in the '30s and '40s? And what insights might they derive from combing through President Truman's diaries, letters and speeches describing negotiations with the Allies and detailing feelings about his decision to drop the atomic bomb in World War II?
Such original source materials would humanize historic events that are part of the curriculum in every school district and provide perspectives on presidential decisions that no textbook could duplicate.
The great news is that all of these documents--and many more--are available online through the Web sites of the presidential libraries that were set up to preserve the papers, records and historic materials of U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover. These sites offer searchable documents, photographs, political cartoons, audio and film clips, and are all linked to NARA, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration site. The libraries also include special sections targeted to K-12 education, with multimedia exhibits, curriculum guides, lesson plans and teaching units.
The traditional social studies curriculum in most K-12 schools emphasizes the acquisition of facts: names, dates and events. In contrast, the National Council for the Social Studies specifies that K-12 students should "understand the purpose of government and how its powers are acquired, used and justified," which requires collecting and processing often conflicting data to arrive at conclusions based on historical evidence.
Online documents from the presidential libraries offer unparalleled opportunities for students to do such original research.
In order to help students and educators "make sense of the vast amount of source material on the Internet," Peter A. …