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History Unveiled

Loewen Mauls History curriculum

Loewen mean "lions" in German, which is the inspiration for this theme.1

History UnveiledJames Loewen opens it up

According to Loewen, there are many things wrong with the way History is generally taught ...

History texts are too fat!History textbooks and courses try to cover too much. There is a lot of breath, but not a lot of breadth in what students learn.

History textbooks and courses try to cover too much. There is a lot of breath, but not a lot of breadth in what students learn. This has additional repercussions. For one, the textbooks are getting much too big. This makes them daunting and seemingly impenetrable to students, which means they are less likely to read their texts. A second consequence is even more damaging. The curriculums demand that so much be covered, which does not leave enough time for students to study a topic in depth and learn how to be historians.

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History is boring!History is more than a recitation of facts.

History is commonly taught as a collection of facts - a lot of facts - which do not engage students in the drama of history.

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History is not relevantStudents dont get the connection between all these facts and themselves.

Students don't know what all those facts, what all that happened in the past has to do with them. They perceived that it is not relevant to them, so they tend not to be interested.6

History is taught with an agenda.

Perhaps Loewens biggest criticism of the way History is taught in the United States is that it is taught with an agenda. He presents this different ways. For example, some historical figures are made into heroes, like Woodrow Wilson, Hellen Keller, Christopher Columbus, and Abraham Lincoln. Heroification, as Loewen calls it, distorts the person and history. What the authors perceive as virtuous is extolled, everything else is not mentioned. By hiding facts this way, authors obscure the humanity of the people and effectively dehumanize them. Students then cannot relate to these people, and therefore will not learn from them. History texts and courses also favor certain presentation of events over others, such as beginning the story of the USA with the Pilgrims, not with Spanish or the Native Americans. The contributions and achievements of some, such as Africans, Native peoples, non-Europeans in general, like pre-Columbian arrivals to the Americas, also tend to be left out, to highlight the achievement of White people. These and other tactics are combined to present what Loewen calls an a steady progress and improvement of the USA under the guidance of Euro-Americans, which not only is disenfranchising, but also incomplete.7

Instead of teaching history the traditional way, Loewen proposes different teaching strategies

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Make history relevant

For student to become interested and engaged in History, they have to believe that it applies to them. As teachers, we need to help students see that the past helps them understand where they are now and can help them chart their steps for the future. Additionally, students can be encouraged apply their own experience to understanding what happened in history.9

Re-introduce the drama back into the study of history

When textbooks and curricula have an agenda, whatever it is, they present history as finished and interpreted. This not only portrays history as being not irrelevant, but also boring. Another aspect of making history interesting for students is to connect them emotionally to it. One way of doing this is to reintroduce the drama:Put the students in a historical time period and have them imagine making the choices of the time;Not all, perhaps most, historical events can be interpreted in more than one way, given all the information.

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Add Drama

Introduce controversyInvestigate diverging opinionsInclude more perspectivesCreate emotional connections

There are number of way of increasing the drama of historyIntroduce controversy: though much is presented as settled fact, it often is not. Professional historians argue over settled fact all the time. Students can do this too, and see that history is alive.Investigate diverging opinions: as Loewen says, we have to pay attention to what history books include, and what they do not. In the drive to cover as much material as possible or demanded, textbooks and courses cannot delve deep into historical events, and so things are left out. Often, what is left out is just as important as what was mentioned.Include more perspectives: often what is left out are the ideas, contributions, and accomplishments of non-Europeans. By including these, a more complete, more interesting picture of the past is drawn. This will also give currently marginalized students a reason to study history they will see themselves in it.What happened in the past happened to human beings. These stories can be just as engaging as current pop culture fare that young adults consume. Teachers need to make these connections for the students.

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Introduce student to the practice of history

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Students Practice history by:Examining primary and secondary sourcesArguing based on historical evidenceInterviewing and investigating in their own communities

As Loewen says in page 405 of his book, For students to create knowledge in exciting and empowering .When students are taught how to investigate historically, when they are allowed to come to their own understandings of issues that are important to them, they will embrace history.13

Loewen to teachers:Cover fewer topics and examine them thoroughly.Teach history backwards.Delve into historical controversy.

Though Loewen addresses the public in general, much of what he has to say applies and is directed to teachers of History. We need to pay attention to his recommendations:Introduce fewer topics and examine them more thoroughly. (p. 405)Delve into historical controversy. (p. 405)Teachers need to set up their classes so that students have the freedom to disagree with the teacher, as long as they can back it up with evidence. (p. 406)Encourage students to practice history in their own communities. (p. 407)Teach history backwards: present something relevant to the students today, and ask them how it came to be.Teach students how to deal critically with historical sources, including their own textbook.

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Loewen to teachers:Allow students to disagree with you.Encourage students to practice history.Teach students how to deal critically with historical sources, including their own textbook.

Though Loewen addresses the public in general, much of what he has to say applies and is directed to teachers of History. We need to pay attention to his recommendations:Introduce fewer topics and examine them more thoroughly. (p. 405)Delve into historical controversy. (p. 405)Teachers need to set up their classes so that students have the freedom to disagree with the teacher, as long as they can back it up with evidence. (p. 406)Encourage students to practice history in their own communities. (p. 407)Teach history backwards: present something relevant to the students today, and ask them how it came to be.Teach students how to deal critically with historical sources, including their own textbook.

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My response to Loewen

How Loewen has influenced me As a teacherMake history relevantUse Multiple textsTeach textual criticismPresent multiple contributionsEncourage student historians

Keep learning my self

Since much of my training at Bemidji State focused on the constructivist model of teaching, nothing in Loewens book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, was absolutely surprising. He has, however, opened my eyes to why this constructivist model is important for teaching History and has provided many powerful and constructive strategies for teaching history. It is hard to say which influenced me the most; I consider all of the following very important:Make history relevant to the students if the students dont see a connection between my class and their lives, I have lost them.Do not rely too much on the textbook: while it can be a good resource, it has a lot of limitations. It is important to introduce students to more texts: primary sources such as documents, newspapers, letters, posters, photos, etc.; secondary sources, such as other historical works, but also those bringing in differing opinions, as well as non-traditional texts such as novels, movies, etc.He has made the importance of teaching students to analyze texts critically very important: this means not only asking what the texts includes, what it doesnt and why, but also asking questions like who wrote, when, to whom, and for what purpose? Is the text credible? Is it backed up by other sources or evidence? Perhaps one thing that I had not thought too much about before was analyzing the choice of language used. These choices influence the readers perception, even on a subconscious level, unless they are attended to consciously.It is important that I expose my students not only to multiple sources, but ones with differing opinions and ones that include the contributions of all actors.The final piece of Loewens that I think I can apply is to encourage the practice of history by my students: beyond looking at primary sources critically, this means letting them investigate their own histories; it also means encouraging research and evidence-based deliberation, discussion, and debate.Finally, Loewen has encouraged me to keep learning history. I had though myself rather well informed, but through the reading of this book, I learned a great many things that I had previously been ignorant before. Part of my task as a teacher