Thinking Critically About History

Leah Shopkow and colleagues have carried out research on the challenges of teaching students to think critically about history. The researchers use sociology to introduce students to a critical reading of history, and they also use sociology to navigate the issues that arise in the classroom.

In general, they find that students react with emotion when faced with a critical reading history. Some students who belong to a majority group feel angry that their ancestors are being “attacked.” Some of them disengage from the material, feeling that the actions of the past don’t relate to them in the present. (Thereby refusing how majority groups continue to benefit from historical relations.) These students will also get defensive, thinking that the class is “biased.”

The researchers write:

“Students (and most laypeople), in contrast to historians, tend to assume that history is about facts… They have mostly experienced historical facts as “display knowledge” and fixed narratives, rather than as objects for historical analysis… Consequently, they see history as uncontested and intellectual. If historians disagree, one of them is “wrong” or “biased.” The students do not understand that their job is interpreting the “facts,” nor do they see that just like other interpreters, they themselves have a vantage point…”

Read the study in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (Chapter 5)

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