Sam Wineburg's got some advice for teachers

Historians in the News
tags: teaching history

... Gesturing to his smartphone, [Sam] Wineburg [author of the forthcoming book, Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) ]  tells Perspectives, “This device is in many ways more powerful than any library we have had from 1900 to 1970.” The problem, though, is that this library lacks any semblance of gatekeeping. He urges teachers—and those who are training future educators—to ditch the “read-the-chapter-and-answer-the-questions-in-the-back pedagogy” that has stifled critical thinking for decades. Instead, he asks teachers to give students the tools they need to sort out fact from fiction in the digital age.

Today’s students might be “digital natives,” but that doesn’t make them responsible consumers of digital information. Between January 2015 and June 2016, Wineburg’s research team evaluated thousands of American students’ ability to judge web sources. What they found was “bleak,” writes Wineburg. Eighty-two percent of students “couldn’t distinguish between an ad and a news story,” and less than 10 percent of college students could identify partisan leanings on websites. Even more disturbing was the finding that teachers, too, sometimes unintentionally directed students to faulty or biased online resources. In one instance, California middle school teachers handed out a document for an assignment that came from an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying Australian website.

In his book, Wineburg lays the blame for this sorry state of affairs on the standard American educational system, which he says has been “stuck in the past” for decades, neglecting to teach foundational skills that would help students confront these problems. He attacks resources and institutions that have long been popular among many history educators—standardized testing, the Department of Education’s Teaching American History initiative, and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States—as having “relegate[ed] students to roles as absorbers, not analysts of information.”

Read entire article at Perspectives

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