Tag Archives: history

Controversy in the History Classroom

The American Historical Association has an online publication called Perspectives on History. I’ve discovered the articles there from scanning the RSS feed of AHA on Google Reader, and became very interested. Although its a cliche to say that engaging students in a history classroom focuses on current events and connections in history, I have always been interested in learning more about what is not taught from our past. Here are a few people who raise interesting perspectives on sex, Darwin, abortion, LBGTQ, and other issues. Here are a few quotes from the articles. All of them can be read here.

Controversy in the Classroom: A Matter for Debate by Pillarisetti Sudhir – “The modern classroom, forged to meet the needs of industrialization, was not meant to be a site for contestations and controversies. From one-room schoolhouses on the prairies of hinterlands to the crowded, redbrick halls of city-center ivory towers, classrooms were mainly locations for the transmission of knowledge. Students were expected, for the most part, to receive the wisdom of their teachers without questioning; and teachers, on their part, were supposed to steer clear of controversial topics. Social and cultural pressures, administrative fiats, parental reactions, and even, at times legislative measures, ensured that for a long time, classrooms, whether in secondary schools or in colleges and universities, remained uncontaminated by debate and controversy (with only the occasional flare-up over such matters as the teaching about Darwinian evolution in a place where it was forbidden by law). This was especially true, perhaps, for history classrooms, as long as the discipline of history itself remained an uncontested terrain. That seemingly happy situation was changed, and changed utterly with the advent of new historiographic perspectives and new histories that, yoked as they were to radical sociopolitical transformations, brought new groups into history books (and classrooms) that had, until then, remained homogenous and anodyne. History, long a subject that induced yawns of ennui and indifference, suddenly became a serious site for controversy, one in which the content of school textbooks became a matter of fierce struggles in locations as distant as India, Japan and Texas, or in which new interpretations of old themes were continually challenged or declared non grata.”


Teaching LBGTQ History: Two Situations by Vicki L. Eaklor – “Too often we historians “ghettoize” experiences of less visible or powerful people into the single lecture or two, but in doing so we reinforce their otherness even as we claim to be inclusive. To mention the debates over Lincoln’s (or Buchanan’s) sexuality, or women who cross-dressed to fight in wars, for example, is to show students something of the complexity of the past, and introduce the arguments over how and why history is done in the first place. I have found students as interested in the uncertainties of history as in yet another recitation of the “facts” they heard in high school.”


Taking the Court into the Classroom: Using Legal Cases to Discuss Controversial Topics by James Coll – “Prayer in public schools? Try Engle v. Vitale. The right to own a gun? Read District of Columbia v. Heller. A march by neo-Nazis in a predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb? Peruse National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. Abortion rights? Study Roe v. Wade. The powers of the police? Analyze Mapp v. OhioMiranda v. ArizonaTerry v. Ohio, and so on; the list can be quite long.”


Beyond Morality: Teaching about Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide by James Frusetta – “Initially, I had asked students to think about “Why have ethnic cleansings occurred in history?” Now, I reframed this: we would try to answer the question, “Have ethnic cleansings proven useful to their perpetrators?” The intent was not simply to reframe the question in an amoral fashion, but rather to encourage students to think about questions of utility—and how such utility could be stripped away in the future.”

Please feel free to share your thoughts on these articles here.

How to ‘Common Core’ History

The Core is here.

Around the nation, schools and states are moving towards something known as the Common Core standards. Basically, all of the standards and expectations in the past were set by each individual state. This meant that some states had higher standards than the others. Massachusetts was one of those ‘high standards’ states. The MCAS is one of the toughest tests in the nation by these guidelines, so when 47 states decided to approve these Common Core standards, it wasn’t much of a change for Massachusetts. The real concern was whether MA was losing some of its high standards, but alas, they decided that it was not so, and they adopted it.

So the Common Core basically has 10 standards for reading and 10 standards for writing in History from grades 6-12. There’s other stuff for English, Math, Science and Technology, but that’s not the stuff on our boat, so we’ll conveniently take a pass on those. Let’s talk about history.

Colored Posters

To familiarize students with the standards, I’ve made colored posters in my class stating the Reading and Writing standards for History from the Common Core.

Click here for a printout of the Writing standards for History.

Click here for a printout of the Reading standards for History.

I’ve also made a list of 18 21st Century skills that I would like the students to know and use. There’s a very useful Common Core / 21st Century Skills Toolkit online here.

A beginning goal is that after we have explored what each standard and skill means to them, students will be able to go to these posters (on my blackboard with magnets and tape) and move them over to a section that says, ‘What we did today’. They would bring over the reading standards, the writing standards and match them with 21st century skills and identify part of the learning process. To do this, they would have to become very familiar with how these standards apply in the actual classroom. They should know what RH7 or WH4 looks like, not because it is a standard, but because it explains how they learn.

I’ve also written a previous post concerning the CC and its standards for History and Social Studies. Finally, there’s a new site which may help history teachers quite a bit where the CC is concerned. It is called MasteryConnect, and offers teachers the opportunity to do many things that will help them in their classes:

  • Free access to assessments that are specific to CC standards.
  • The ability to freely connect and follow other teachers.
  • With an account, you can add all of your students, choose an assessment, and then grade them in a standards-based way to see how well they met each standard.



http://nbleadership.com/file-437 (vertical and horizontal CC standards for history)

http://nbleadership.com/file-442 (CC RH standards poster)

http://nbleadership.com/file-444 (CC WH standards poster)



http://www.p21.org/index.php?Itemid=236&task=view&option=com_content&id=1005 (CC/P21 toolkit)

http://www.p21.org/images/p21_toolkit_final.pdf (CC/P21 toolkit dload)