Over the last few decades, history educators and the scholars who shape the field of history education have stressed the teaching of historical thinking skills as essential to good pedagogy. This emphasis, I would argue, emerged as a response to an older approach to teaching history that tended to focus on cultural literacy, or the mastering of facts. We see this older approach, for example, in Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s “Love America Act.“
…my wide reading in global history reminded me of how exciting I find it to watch historians work: to see their questions take shape, follow them into the archives, and watch them piece evidence together into a consciously crafted narrative. What I needed to do, I realized, was bring into my classroom not only the scholarly content but also the scholars, as writers, thinkers, doubters, and humans themselves. Making their work visible would deliver more comprehensive content to the students, while also providing an opportunity to study and practice the skills most historians agree are important.
When I shared my classroom experience in a conversation with Bob Bain, professor of educational studies and history at the University of Michigan, he stressed that the skills-versus-content debate rests on a false dichotomy. We cannot separate content knowledge from the thinking processes that have produced that knowledge, he said. That kind of separation makes the history we teach seem artificial.
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