Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools

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

gued in chapter 1, history is fundamentally controversial, then we have an obligation to help our students recognize and respond intelligently to controversy. If, in addition, democracy is based on a conflictual model of decision making, and if many of our public conflicts have historic roots, it becomes even more important to help students better understand how these conflicts played out historically. Finally, if our sense of historical agency influences how we respond to conflict and consensus, then we have another powerful argument for encouraging our students not just to analyze conflicts, but to take reasoned and deliberate action to shape the future.

Loewen ( 1995), National Council for the Social Studies ( 1994), Zinn ( 1990, 1994)

This chapter focused on two related aspects of historical thinking--recognizing the impact of conflict and consensus, and understanding historical agency. In Dehea's class, these aspects were dealt with in the context of a social studies the- matic unit on community (see chap. 8 for more detail on this unit). To help her students understand the impact of conflict and consensus in their community, she explicitly related public conflict management to classroom protocols. Her emphasis on metacognition--establishing metaphors to describe tasks, modeling procedures, and then asking students to analyze them, thinking aloud with students as they outlined the parameters of a "good argument"--provided cognitive touchstones for students new to inquiry into controversial issues. In addition, because the class focused on controversies in the local community, where they could interview relevant people, write to local officials, and survey participants in decision making, her students were initiated into the role of civic participant. Not only did they learn that other people have historic agency, but they practiced being agents themselves.

Historical agency influences how we respond to conflict and consensus.

Jim Farrell's students began with a more distant problem, but found that some issues spread tentacles into the present. In their discomfort with the present manifestations of historic problems, some of the students rejected the role of historic agent; others embraced it. Like historic actors in the past, they made choices about how those issues would play out in their own lives. Jeanette Groth's students took the Bill of Rights and discovered that it was a living document that had a daily impact on their lives. In each of these classrooms, as well as in Viktor's and Billie's classes, disciplined, reflective inquiry helped students establish the significance of historic events and the impact of individual and collective agency--social participation--on the ways conflicts are managed. Although not every current or historic controversy requires such extensive treatment in the classroom, some issue, contention, or question lies at the heart of all historic inquiry. With no controversies, no questions to be resolved, and no perspectives to be understood, history is a lifeless thing--able to tell us little about an increasingly interdependent, complex, and controversial world.

Historical agency implies active civic participation.


CHILDREN'S AND ADOLESCENT LITERATURE

Nonfiction on Historical Controversies

Aaseng N. You Are the Supreme Court Justice. Oliver, 1994. (Look for other titles in the "Great Decisions" series.)

Altman L. J. The Pullman Strike of 1894: Turning Point for American Labor. Millbrook, 1994. (Look for other titles in the "Spotlight on American History" series.)

Ashabranner B. A New Frontier: The Peace Corps in Eastern Europe. Cobblehill, 1994.

Children of Yugoslavia Staff. I Dream of Peace. HarperCollins, 1994.

Colman P. Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children. Millbrook, 1994.

Filipovic Z. Zlata's Diary. Viking, 1994.

Frank A. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Doubleday, 1967.

Frank A. The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition. Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation & Doubleday, 1989.

Freedman R. Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor. Clarion, 1994.

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