It's Critical in the Classroom

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I get asked for advice from freshly minted history teachers all the time.

So, my new history teacher's what you should consider. There's a lot of hullabaloo these days about classrooms being political. Of course this stands to reason. You will discuss politics. You may even see your new vocation as a golden opportunity to present the Truth. Because you have political opinions - and naturally they are the good ones (congrats on being enlightened!). But I warn you to proceed with caution. Classrooms are political to be sure...but what does that mean exactly? Where do you fit in this potentially charged political scenario? Should history teachers teach through the lens of their personal politics? I think not. 

There is an inherent danger here. Teaching history as an extension of one's political perspective is a mistake. And this applies to teachers or to any other profession. It's intellectually dishonest and its academically lazy. Anyone can color an event with a political hue and then selectively pick evidence that "proves" their points. But doing so just teaches sloppy shortcuts. 

Instead, try presenting history as a riddle. Give the students room to think on the "why" questions. Show them multiple perspectives. Send them to the (digital) archives. Teach them about reliable sources. In them think critically about the material with patient guidance. You will have students with whom you disagree. Great. Encourage them to make their cases and help them negotiate the vast sea that is the historical record. This will certainly take a great deal of effort. But it's worth it. They might then understand things with greater clarity. And guess might too. 

The hallmark of our profession is reasoned analysis. We weigh and follow evidence. We are willing to redirect and revise when we discover evidence that runs counter to our ideas. Hell, sometimes we even have to admit that we are wrong. Why would we expect our students to do less?      

Look, if they continue to make far-fetched and unsubstantiated claims...just ask them to show you the evidence. That generally does the trick.  

And yes, I do wear vintage neckerchiefs to class. 

With compliments, 


PS - There are Twitter battles currently underway underscoring this issue exactly. Stay tuned.