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OUSD K-12 History / Social Studies Standards

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OUSD Historical Thinking Standards 9th-12th Grade

3. Diversity : Multiple Perspectives

  • influences (such as location, race, gender, class, age, sexual orientation)
  • empathy

In Oakland we work with populations of students from communities whose history has, historically, not been included in the narratives presented in schools, textbooks, and the popular media.

Central to the study of history and the development of historical understanding is the need to seek out and consider multiple perspectives such as race, class, gender, and geographical location. For example, a unit on World War II should include primary sources that relate how the experiences of African - American soldiers differed from the experiences of Japanese- American soldiers and how both differed from the experiences of European - American soldiers. A unit on the - American Revolution should include primary sources which relate the experiences and viewpoints of women and African -- American s, as well as the experiences and viewpoints of the individuals included in the traditional narrative of our nation's origin. It is through the consideration of multiple perspectives that students begin to appreciate the challenge historians face as they attempt to understand and reconstruct the past.

Empathy, in terms of history, is both essential to the development of historical understanding and an achievement of that study. To say a student has empathized is to say that he or she, through a process of reconstructing the past, is in a position to consider a set of beliefs, values, and experiences not necessarily his or her own. It also is to say that a student has gained an understanding of a historical period by learning about people in the past who may have different beliefs, values, and experiences. In the California "HistorySocial Studies Framework," discussion of historical literacy, historical empathy was listed first among goals for students. The Framework described it as, "...the imaginative reconstruction of the past ... the student should have a sense of what it was like to live there, to realize that events hung in the balance, that people in the past did not know how things ultimately would turn out."

Entertaining the beliefs, goals, and values of other people, in other places, and other societies can be a difficult intellectual task. It means considering ideas that are not one's own and may be disagreeable or disturbing. However, when students consider ideas in their historical context it will help them to better understand the beliefs and actions of people in the past.

Teachers face a dilemma in helping students achieve historical empathy. They want to help students understand that they shouldn't judge people in the past by our present day values and perspectives, but they also know that history cannot be value free and students can use their study of the past to help shape their own beliefs and values about the world today.

4. Historical Interpretation

  • constructing historical accounts
  • comparing historical accounts
  • moral judgment
Written historical accounts can never be the same thing as the past itself, they cannot include everything that happened from every perspective. Historians construct interpretations based on the questions they ask and the evidence they gather. For this reason, they are constantly challenging, revising and rewriting historical accounts. Some historians, for example, understand the events leading up to the Civil War as a moral conflict, while others stress the economic nature of the divisions between the North and South as the key to understanding what led to the conflict. In addition, interpretations of the past are also subject to influences that reflect the historian's own particular time and place. For example, many historians in the past have seen American westward expansion in the 19th century as a sign of progress. Today, environmental historians view this period less optimistically.

The goal of this particular standard is for students to be able to understand how historians construct history and to construct coherent historical narratives of their own as they work with evidence, accounts, and other historical narratives. It is also for students to understand the similarities and differences among histori-ans' accounts of the past, and those of novelists, filmmakers, storytellers, and others.

Constructing and comparing historical accounts often involves making moral judgments. As Peter Seixas, a history educator, points out, " ... our ability to make moral judgments in history requires that we entertain the notion of an historically transcendent human commona-ity, a recognition of our humanity in the person of historical actors, at the same time that we open every door to the possibility that those actors differ from us in ways so profound that we perpetually risk misunderstanding them."

Grappling with the vital moral and ethical issues illuminated by the study of history provides an opportunity for students to better understand themselves and their present conditions. They get to see how people worked for, or against, change. They examine actions inspired by ideals of equality and social justice, as well as self-interest and greed. They see the constraints on people's decisions and the intended as well as the unintended cons-quences of their actions. All of this helps students to gain perspective and understanding, to help them make crucial decisions about their participation as citizens in their own commu-nity.

As students construct coherent narratives, the multiple viewpoints within a student popula-tion is also an important component of study-ing history. For example, because many of our students come from families that recently emigrated from Southeast Asia they may provide a different perspective on the Vietnam War than students whose families were in the United States during the war. If historical understanding requires the consideration of a variety of perspectives, then a classroom's diversity can be an important part of that process. Multiple perspectives on the meaning and significance of historical events and indi-viduals can emerge through the diverse views and interpretations students develop as they discuss and write about the history they encounter.

5. Determining Historical/ Geographical Significance
What is Important in the Past and Why?

  • connecting past, present, and place
  • causation
  • evaluation
  • location

If history is the reconstruction of the past and a product of present interests and concerns, key questions for students become who were the significant people, what were the significant events, and how did their significance connect to their location? For historians, teachers, and students, these questions raise additional questions. How is this identification of signifi-cance made and on what basis? How do these events and individuals connect to larger themes and ideas? Rather than just reciting a list of important terms and individuals, students should be able to develop and express criteria for determining an individual or event as historically significant.

The ability to establish historical significance is dependent on being able to sort and sift through pieces of historical evidence and explain their connection to a certain theme, idea, event, or place. This means that students move beyond a recitation of events and people involved in a particular historical period towards an evaluation of which of these indi-viduals and events were most important in determining what happened. This process requires of students the act of evaluation. For example, students might be asked two very basic questions. First, "Which event during a particular time period had the most effect in determining what happened?" Second, "Did an individual make, in your judgment, positive or negative contributions to their society/ community at that time, or to the development of their society/ community over time?" A thoughtful response to these questions requires that students grapple with the problem of identifying and explaining an event's or individual's historical significance.

In addition, teachers are always trying to connect the past and the present. Throughout this process teachers are explaining and highlighting historical significance for their students. In other words, this event or person is important because of a connection to our present concerns and interests.

The Oakland History Standards highlight historical thinking because they provide students the opportunity to determine significance and evaluate, as part of the district history curriculum, the past for themselves.

Final Note: We developed these subdivisions (chronology and spatial, evidence, diversity and multiple perspectives, interpretation, and significance) so that teachers could work to develop students' capacity in each area. However, in reality these categories often overlap and are sometimes hard to distinguish from each other. Nevertheless, the creation of these categories should help teachers develop a more systematic way of teaching and assessing students' ability to think historically.

References :
Ashby, Rosalyn and Lee, Peter, "Children's Concepts of Empathy and Understanding in History," in The History Curriculum for Teachers, Portal, Christopher, (Philadelphia, Falmer Press, 1987 pp. 62-87.)

Banks, James, "The Canon Debate, Knowledge Construction, and Multicultural Education," Educational Researcher, June-July, 1993, pp. 4-13.

California State Board of Education, History Social Science Framework, 1987.

Geography Education Standards Project, National Geography Standards 1994, (National Geographic Research and Exploration, Washington, C.D., 1994).

Levine, Lawrence W., "The Historian and the Icon: Photography and the History of the American People in the 1930s and 1940s," in Documenting American, 1935-1943, Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan eds. (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988, pp. 15-42.)

National Center for History in the Schools, National Standards for History Education: Exploring the American Experience, (University of California, Los Angeles, 1995).

Portal, Christopher, "Children's Conceptions of Empathy and Understanding in History," in The History Curriculum for Teachers, Portal, Christopher, (Philadelphia, Falmer Press, 1987, pp. 89-99.)

Seixas, Peter, "Conceptualizing the Growth of Historical Knowledge," in The Handbook of Education and Human Development, Olson, David and Torrence, Nancy, eds. (Oxford, U.K., Blackwell, 1996, pp 765-783).