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What Role Should History Departments Play in Teacher Preparation?

Arnita Jones
American Historical Association

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For more than a hundred years historians, teachers and the public have been fussing about the sad state of history knowledge among the nation’s high school and college students. Yet despite various reform efforts in nearly every decade of the 20th century, complaints about the lack of a history curriculum that will actively engage students’ attention persist.  Read more »

Gloria Ladson-Billings
Curriculum and Instruction, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

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It seems axiomatic that history teachers would rely on historians to prepare them. Of course they should. However, as is true of all academic disciplines, there is a difference between it and the school subject that bears its name.  Read more »

Peter B. Knupfer
History, Michigan State University

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The training of history teachers should be part of a department’s larger mission to train students to be historians, which entails a form of public history—to attune one’s teaching and learning activities to what will be a nonacademic audience.  Read more »

Keith C. Barton
Curriculum and Instruction, University of Indiana

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History departments must thoughtfully consider how the needs of teachers differ from those of students who plan to become historians themselves, or who are simply fulfilling requirements.  Read more »

Brian Gratton
Catherine O'Donnell
History, Arizona State University

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In the preparation of future teachers, the role of history departments should be content, content, content. The substance of history must be the goal when a history department has a hand in preparing K-12 teachers.  Read more »

Michael Wallace
Educational Consultant

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Ultimately, whether teachers view history as an established set of facts objectively presented in textbooks, or as an ongoing construction of the past that is complex, uncertain, and open to revision and interpretation, greatly influences the type of history they teach.  Read more »

Most of the essayists seem to

Most of the essayists seem to believe that history is an interpretive, evidence-based discipline, and they suggest the importance of engaging pre-service history teachers in this paradigm. While I agree wholeheartedly, I'm perplexed by the delineation most of the essayists make between future historians and future teachers. At what point do we introduce students to history as evidence-based and interpretive? If we want to begin in elementary school, should we introduce pre-service elementary teachers to this paradigm in their undergraduate history survey course? If we want the paradigm to continue in the secondary grades, should we model it for pre-service middle and high school teachers in their undergraudate history courses, too? If we want "future historians" to begin their graduate work in a full gallop, instead of tentatively groping along like blindfolded dupes feeling an elephant, shouldn't we use undergraduate courses as opportunities to make transparent for them, too, the nature of history as evidence-based and interpretive?

All of these questions point to the importance of how history is taught to ALL undergraduate students. Since "pedagogy" is a one-word synonym for how something is taught, perhaps it should no longer be uttered with disdain in history departments.

But perhaps many historians avoid teaching history as a way of knowing not out of contempt, but because they don't know how to begin, they don't know what sorts of strategies to use. This is another issue in itself...when and how should we teach postsecondary history teachers to teach??

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