Monday, October 29, 2012

Sam Wineburg's Course on Howard Zinn

Over at the blog of the Historical Society, Randall Stephens has a short interview with teaching history guru Sam Wineburg, author of the fabulous Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (a book that every pre-service history teacher should read) and a host of other books on how to teach history in schools. 

As most readers know, we are big fans of Wineburg here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and have blogged extensively about his work. 

In his latest venture at Stanford, Wineburg is teaching a course to college freshmen on Howard Zinn.  I have seen the syllabus and it looks great.  (I liked it even better when I saw that his students were reading parts of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation:A  Historical Introduction?). 

Here is a taste of Stephens's interview with Wineburg:

Randall Stephens: What made you decide to teach a course on "Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States & the Quest for Historical Truth"?

Sam Wineburg:
When I moved to Stanford from the University of Washington in 2002, I began to encounter very bright students in our Masters of Teaching program who were highly critical of their high school history books, but who reserved a sacred place for Zinn's A People's History. It had been years since I read the book, so I went to the bookstore, purchased the latest edition and started to read. The first thing that popped out at me was that despite the fact that the book had been in print for over two decades no new scholarship had been incorporated in Zinn's narrative. Chapters on the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War and everything prior to 1980 were frozen in amber. It was as if, once you came to your historical conclusions, you never had to rethink your position in light of new scholarship—such as the opening up of the Soviet archives and the light these documents shed on spies in America, or the tell-all exposes of the Emperor Hirohito's inner coterie and how these memoirs changed our ideas about how close (actually, how distant) the Japanese were to surrender before Hiroshima. The more I started to dig the more I started to realize how useful A People's History would be pedagogically, particularly for students who conceptualize the past in stark binaries of true and false.

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