6 Moves to Improve Teaching in World History Courses

The NCHE Annual Conference was hosted in Washington DC this year. It was a beautiful weekend ahead of the famed blossoming of the cherry trees in the city predicted to adorn the city in early April. 

(Did you know that it is the Yoshino tree’s single white blossoms that create an effect of white clouds around the Tidal Basin and north onto the grounds of the Washington Monument. Intermingled with the Yoshino are a small number of Akebono cherry trees, which bloom at the same time as the Yoshino and produce single, pale-pink blossoms…)

Ok, back to the conference.

I had the honor of being part of a panel for a three hour workshop for 26 participants from a range of fields.  Together with three outstanding historians and educators (see below and bios here) we shared insights and practices regarding the challenges and opportunities of teaching and learning world history.

  • Bob Bain, University of Michigan
  • Heather Streets-Salter, Northeastern University
  • Molly Warsh, University of Pittsburgh

Below, I have outlined my panel segment which summarized 6 moves/pivots our social studies program has been emphasizing and supporting for the last 7 years at Fairfax County Public Schools.  For your reference the slide deck I used can be accessed here.

As it is just a slide deck, I am happy to clarify any part of the presentation.  Just post a comment or email me directly at craigperrier19@gmail.com   Enjoy!


Overview: When teaching world history, teachers and teams have multiple chances to make the class engaging, relevant, and student centered.  These opportunities uses the content of the class to support student skills and dispositions beyond the classroom.  As with the other heading below, these moves will provide the best dynamic experiences for students when the team of teachers are professional collaborators.

  • Move/Pivot  1: Apply knowledge used in history to understand the present and develop students’ world views.
  • Move/Pivot  2: Use inquiry to develop disciplinary literacy with students so that they can construct their understanding and meaning of the past.
  • Move/Pivot  3: Connect students with other students beyond your school.


Overview: The amount of content in world history course, as you can imagine, is extensive (and arguably limitless).  These moves require intentional course planning while developing teachers’ craft.  Ultimately each decision is on a continuum that meets teachers/teams where they are with rooms to innovate when the time is right.

  • Move/Pivot  4: When should we take deep dives during the survey course?
  • Move/Pivot  5: What level of student input and autonomy is used?
  • Move/Pivot  6: Whose perspectives should we include?



In addition I do urge you to consider exploring the over 100 federally funded National Resource Centers (NRC)  housed at universities across the USA. The goal of the NRC are to “support instruction in fields needed to provide full understanding of areas, regions or countries; research and training in international studies …instruction and research on issues in world affairs. and outreach programs to K-12 and post-secondary institutions, and the public at large.”  NRC have been valuable partners as resource providers and  supporters of teachers’ content understanding.

You can locate the NRC currently funded on their website.  A screenshot of the interactive map is provided below.


Harvard’s 2016 Think Tank on Global Education: Highlights and Transformations

George Bernard Shaw said  “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’ Last week I had the pleasure of  engaging with this, in essence, leadership style/belief with a group of educators at the Global Education Think Tank at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Participating in this symposium fulfilled a professional and personal goal I had made for myself in 2010 wtank 11hen the event first came on my radar. For making this a reality, I am forever grateful to both Dr. Reimers and Dr. Fletcher for inviting me to be part of a panel discussion. It was a transformative experience.

Over the course of three days about 90 participants engaged “in the active and critical examination of global competency and the practice of global education.”  Below, I have captured highlights of the program – my main takeaways and some resources that were shared.  Additionally, the twitter feed for the event can be found here.

I hope you find the items below enlightening, inspiring, and catalysts for reflection about your school’s and personal educational philosophy.  As Marcel Proust noted “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”  Enjoy!

1) Sustainable Development Goals (Fernando Reimers) 

  • Main Takeaways  There is power in clearly articulating the purposes of education. In our connected and diverse world, global education provides the most relevant framework for educators to express the change in values that come with globalization.  Therefore. what we choose to say and do in the spirit of  global education, both as an avenue for reflection on teaching and learning as well as a driver for change in those areas, matters.   Three ways to implement global education in schools include  a) Designing new instructional practices  b) Develop new curriculum  c)  Change the culture of teachers and students.   Additionally, it is importantnorman-rockwell-golden-rule-do-unto-others-april-1-1961 to recognize student development and success  happens cognitively and in their interpersonal and intrapersonal capabilities.  The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer set of authentic, global issues that schools can use to develop learning experiences for students.  Developing a curriculum, instructional practices, authentic assessments,  and teacher development programs wouldn’t simply change education – it would transform it.


2) Six Strategies for Advancing Global Education (Brandon Wiley)

  • Main Takeaways What will the world (and school) be like in 2028?  The current landscape provides  insights to that question. a)  Globalization is not a fad  b) The world is becoming more diverse  c) More significant than what you know is what you do with that knowledge.   So, how can schools embrace global education?  It is important to remember that frameworks (and vision statements) are only as good as their application. So, it is  necessary to support your assets  and recognize your access points in curriculum, instruction, assessments, and staff. 
  • Resources to Explore Global Ed Leader        Asia Society Education


3) How to Promote and Assess Intercultural Competency (Darla Deardorff)

  • Main Takeaways What are some of the answers to the question “Why should we emphasize  global education in our school?”  In other words, what are the benefits of fostering skills and dispositions like Intercultural Competence and International Mindedness?  Some of the popular answers include a) Employability  b) Integration of immigrants and “the Other”  and c)  Develop principles of democracy.  Furthermore, the session reminded us that the PISA tests will begin to assess “Global Competency” in 2018

4) How do you Address Religious Literacy (Ali Asani)

  • Main Takeaways The guiding question to this session “What influences our understanding about the world, tank6people, belief systems, and culture?” centers our work in global education.   Focusing on religious literacy, Dr. Asani challenged the claims of Samuel Huntington’s   “clash of civilization” theory  which groups people of the world into monolithic, static, packaged units  of existence.  The result is a limited understanding about and a simplistic “othering” of people not like you.  Aptly, Dr. Asani references this as a “Clash of Ignorance”  Returning to the core question, reflect on where your body of knowledge regarding Islam and Muslims comes from.  Specifically, how often is Islam approached from an aesthetic epistemology?  Maybe a  better question is, why is it not?

5) How to Study Abroad with Limited Resources (Joey Lee)

  • Main Takeaways  Is international travel essential for a successful global education program?  No.  But schools may avoid even exploring the possibility because of a fear that it may be accessible to only a specific segment of the student body.  Enter Education First (EF).  In addition to the range of services related to global education. EF has intentionally moved from a tour(ist) model for students to one that immerses students in the country they visit. The result is a broader perspective (not the food. festival, clothing approach to global ed) and a maturing experience for students that develops global citizenship skills.

6) Using Design Thinking to Develop Curriculum in Global Education (Karina Baum and Gustavo tank2Carrera)

  • Main Takeaways  Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols has intentionally created a globally focused curriculum for their students.  Using Design Thinking to map out challenges and possibilities, the school seeks input from a range of stake holders.  The result is  a “future oriented and forward thinking” curriculum. BB and N offers “Russian, Chinese, and Arabic as well as more commonly taught languages. Students also have access to a number of school exchange or international travel opportunities to locales that include Paris, Moscow, and Morocco. You can also study for a semester on the coast of Maine, in the city of Rome, or in the mountains of Colorado (or the Swiss Alps!).”

7) Developing Capacity Through  Teacher Education (Veronica Boix Mansilla)

  • Main Takeaways Teacher preparation in global education, both for pre-service teachers and veterans, must be clear and intentional. But what should the training/development focus on and look like?  One approach is to focus on the concept of signature pedagogies.  Lee Shulman  defines this as “the types of teaching that organize tank5the fundamental ways in which future practitioners are educated for their new professions.” In turn, this begs the question “what instructional practices are central to global education?”   This is an exciting area to explore. Currently, Dr. Boix-Mansilla has identified  these:  a) Integrating Global Topics and Perspectives Into and Across the Standard Curriculum   b) Authentic Engagement with Global Issues  c) Connecting Teachers’ Global Experiences, Students’ Global Experiences, and the Curriculum.  Additionally, comparative approaches are part of the signature pedagogies.  In my experience, teachers who utilize video conferencing so their students can engage in dialogue with students around the globe is a signature pedagogy that easily used with projects like the Tony Blair Foundation.

8) How to Lead a System-Level Strategic Initiative (Bella Wong and Craig Perrier)

  • Main Takeaways

Bella and I offered perspectives from two very different educational scenarios.  Bella is the Superintendent and Principal of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School  with an enrollment of about 2,000 students. I am the hpog3igh school social studies curriculum/instruction specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. FCPS is 10th largest school district in the US with nearly 190,000 students and about 550 High School Social Studies teachers.  Driving our strategic changes are commitments to global citizenship.  Lincoln-Sudbury has a unique Global-Scholar Program for students to opt in.  It develops students who are  “active participants in our global community, while also demonstrating an appreciation for the importance of cultural diversity and global responsibility.”  FCPS’ vision statement includes the development of Ethical and Global Citizenship as part of students’ K-12 experiences.  Despite the size differences and out different positions, we agreed that it is imperative for global education leaders to do the following: a) Consistent and Clear Communication  b)  Collaboration Among Departments  c) Nurture and Celebrate Teacher Leaders   d) FInd Entry Points in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.

As you introduce or continue to develop your global education program, I encourage you to revisit, utilize and share these resources.  Remember, hubris can prevent change in educators.  But this can’t be allowed to hamper the evolution of teaching and learning from which our students will benefit.


New England American Studies Association: Annual Conference

The 2011 NEASA conference, “American Mythologies: Creating, Re-creating, and Resisting National Narratives” is under one month away. I am happy to be both a presenter and a member of the planning committee around this fascinating topic.

This year, NEASA launched a pre-conference blog highlighting  panels and presentations. Check it out and get a feel for the conference organization and scholarship. Also, a few professional organizations will have information tables during the Friday session. Among them, Class Measures located in Woburn, MA focuses on “raising student achievement by improving instructional leadership and school organization.”

The conference takes place November 4th and 5th at Plimouth Plantation, Plymouth, MA.  Friday is geared toward secondary educators who can register as a “guest” at no charge. That is right NO CHARGE!This is definitely an offer you can’t refuse.

How can you resist the NEASA Conference...

The conference keynote speaker is Dr. James Loewen, author of  Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.  I remember Loewen’s Lies.. being one of the first texts suggested to me by my mentor teachers at Medfield High School. I am excited to attend his keynote address.


My paper, ““Confronting American Genocide: United States History and the Pequot War”
is part of the “Native American” panel on Saturday at 2:15 p.m.  Below is an excerpt from my piece.  Thanks in advance for your support and help in promoting this year’s NEASA conference.


Emblazoned upon the white backdrop and blue shield prominently displayed in the center of Massachusetts’ state flag stands the golden figure of a Native American. Massachusetts general law Chapter 2, section 1, identifies the form simply as an “Indian”. Inference suggests, however, the character is a representative of the Algonquian language family. Specific references typically identify him as a member of the tribe, subsequently immortalized in the state’s moniker, “Massachusetts”.  Both labels regarding the Native American’s identity make geo-historical sense.  Algonquian societies, including the Pequot, populated greater New England and were among the first people to encounter English colonists in North America. What’s more, the decision to include an “Indian” on the Commonwealth’s banner seems celebratory, a tribute to the indigenous people of the New World. There are, however, two other elements on the state standard which invite alternate interpretations of native-colonial relationships. The first feature, an unraveled ribbon flowing around the blue shield framing the centerpiece, is inscribed in Latin, “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.” (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty).  The quote directly references the second image; a bent, sword-wielding arm hovering above the Algonquian’s head akin to Damocles’ fateful blade. Taken together, this iconography conjures up a variety of historically contextualized imaginaries. Among them are incidents of war, paternalism, and scalping. In this light, the celebratory “Indian” mentioned earlier, can be just as justifiably understood as a memorial over a  conquered, decimated foe.

Central to this paper’s inquiry is the relationship between the concept “genocide” and its existence in American historical memory. Furthermore, the interplay between narrative and education are subsequently formalized in institutionalized conceptualizations of the American identity.Commenting on the influence of historical memory construction, Harvard educational psychologist Howard Gardner, details that ”over time and cultures, the most robust and most effective form of communication is the creation of a powerful narrative. Any one person or agent or institution that has the capacity to decide which story is operative, to sideline or minimize rival stories and to prepare for the next generation’s stories, is in a very powerful position.”The implications surrounding “genocide” and its relation to national identities are especially sensitive and nuanced.  A principle contested theme of interpretation is the marking of the war as an example of genocide.  Since Raphael Lemkin’s creation of the term in 1943, “genocide” labels have been applied to events which predate the mid-twentieth century. The Pequot War is fertile ground for arguments over such branding.

Cultural symbols matter

This paper supports the claim that the Pequot War was a case of genocide. Paramount to this rationale is a definitive understanding of genocide’s formalized terminology and its relevant application to an event three centuries before its codification in the 1948 United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Furthermore, the functions of education and memory are considered crucial elements in the relationship among national narratives, identity, and acts of genocides. The ultimate goal of this paper is to make a case for high school history curriculum standards to identify and teach the Pequot War as a genocidal act. Furthermore, memory and education are considered essential elements for prevention of future genocide. Altering existing high school content, and teaching genocide in the U.S. national narrative, works to greater understanding and deterrence of genocide.





We will never forget what… happened to why?

The differences between engaging the past as either “heritage” or “history” crystallized earlier this month around the 10thyear anniversary of 9-11. As expected, there were numerous events  and symbols memorializing, a process central to heritage studies,  “what happened” that day.  Arguably the most prominent commemoration happened during the NFL

Memorializing 9-11: a synthesis of Hollywood, NFL, and Nationalism

Sunday night pre-game ceremony between the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. This included a brief homage by actor Robert DeNiro  opening  the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  DeNiro, in his speech, noted a pledge by the NFL and Americans  “to never forget”  emphasizing the importance, meaning, and value of marking an historical event part of national memory.

In conjunction with 9-11 memorializing, a variety of institutions shared lesson plans and resources for teachers to use with their students, typically in history and social studies classes.  These tools impact what was to be remembered, shaping  narrative, memory, and meaning, under the auspices of “history” not as “heritage”. Simply put, what is emphasized in curriculum resources highlight content and  a process of how students should engage knowledge about the past.  Let’s look at four of these 9-11 sources, specifically around how they engage a fundamental historical thinking skill, “causation” – why something happened.


History.com: The resources, titled “9/11 Attacks – 102 Minutes That Changed America”,  include  interactive technology , photo galleries, audio casts, and documentary videos about personal reflections, heroes, and the construction of the 9-11 memorial.

The accompanying two page curriculum study guide  is designed to help sort out the impressive resources above. Most noteworthy are the series of questions and activities. Despite a warning to teachers regarding the use of their material and the maturity of their students, there are no questions exploring “why” or “causation”. Instead, History.com notes that their material “fulfills several

guidelines outlined by the National Council for History Education including: (1) Values,Beliefs, Political Ideas and Institutions; (2)Conflict and Cooperation; and (3) Patterns of Social and Political Interaction. Considering the centrality of establishing “cause” in history course, it absence it these tools is a disappointing silence.


Choices Series from Brown University:  “Choices Program uses a problem-based approach to make complex international issues accessible and meaningful for students of diverse abilities and learning styles.” Their 9-11 material focuses on a two day oral history project that seeks to:

  • Explore the human dimension of the September 11 attacks by conducting an interview.
  • Consider the benefits and limitations of using oral history to learn about the past.
  • Assess their own views on September 11.

The work sheet has no questions related to causation or implied conversations about “why”. Interviews ask their sources questions about memories an demotions related to that day. Unfortunately, like History.com, Choices choose the heritage route as well. A more apt title for this project is “Reflections”.

9-11 National Memorial:   Under the FAQ of this site, is the question “Why did the terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? ” Causation is presented as a neat ,simple explanation and historical agency is one sided in the memorial’s explanation: “Al Qaeda hoped that, by attacking these symbols of American power, they would promote widespread fear throughout the country and severely weaken the United States’ standing in the world community, ultimately supporting their political and religious goals in the Middle East and Muslim World.”

This answer carries no citation, lacks complexity, and entertains no other causal explanation. It fails as a historical explanation but fits the needs of a national heritage.

The memorial’s New York lesson plans, categorized under four headings, Historical Impact, Community & Conflict, Heroes & Service, Memory & Memorialization, do not address causation.

Foreign Policy Research Institute: The Philadelphia based think-tank offered videos and lecture notes for the 10th year anniversary under the title: “What Students Need to Know about 9/11: Ten Years Later”

Moreover, the FPRI maintain a large library of resources accumulated over the decade.   The programming done on September 8th, 2011 offers the most balanced explanation of causation around 9-11 and explores historical roots. In one section, FPRI Senior Fellow Edward A. Turzanski  claims, “The American nation was, and still is, not rallied to action with a clear explanation of who the Islamists really are and why the American culture is better than theirs… In somewhat typical American fashion, the terribly messy work of clarifying ideas and redressing deficiencies in strategy has instead led to the creation of large, expensive structures”

Unfortunately, FPRI has produced no lesson plans around the recent program, but has some dated from previous years. One lesson plan from 2005, presents this goal:

Objectives: Students will be able to trace the events leading up to 9-11.

This is a starting point and has potential to flesh out varying narratives, perspectives, and explanations addressing “why” 9-11 happened.

Secondary Education and 9-11:

I am interested in how and when  high school history textbooks explain the causes of 9-11.  I feel the official historical narrative isn’t complete and am not sure when it will be. EdWeek noted in an August 2011 article  that “fewer than half the states explicitly identify the 9/11 attacks in their high school standards for social studies.” The ones that do emphasize what happened , the U.S. response, and how the attacks affected U.S. domestic society.  But where is the “why” question?

High school schools students are expected to identify causes for major events in U.S. history.  The Civil War, Great Depression, World War II, etc, all carry expectations of student knowledge around cause. Separating this aspect of 9-11 will cement it in heritage studies.   One approach would be to explore global explanations of 9-11. This is a pedagogical move beyond the heritage paradigm. DeNiro was clear to point  out that the victims of 9-11 came from other nations; 9-11 is a global not a national event.

Engaging 9-11 as an historical event has recently places 9-11 a “book end” in historical thinking. Attempts at eriodization places the Berlin Wall’s fall (11-9) and 9-11 as the temporal framework for the post Cold War-U.S. Hegemony era. Another

Orlando Lagos won the 1973 World Press photo award for his iconic shot of Salvador Allende moments before his death.

outcome of exploring 9-11 as an historical event frequently takes students and educators to Chile and the overthrow of Salvador Allende by a U.S. supported General Pinochet.  The “Original 9-11” as it as become to be called, broadens student understanding of international relations and its connection to how we understand the past.

Historian Richard Overy reminds us that history “at its best is critical, exciting, thought-provoking, frustratingly ambiguous and uncertain. It is the reflective element of the collective mind. If history becomes just heritage studies, the collective intelligence will be all the poorer.”   Causation around 9-11 needs to be explored not as a balance to memorialization, but as complement to our, and our students’, understanding.  I take it that the information here will still be useful to teachers who will engage students with this topic later in the school year.

History is not heritage.  Both engage our memories and conceptualization of the past, but with two different goals in mind. The resources for 9-11’s 10th anniversary largely fulfill a need for memorialization.  We will never forget what happened. But do we have the resolve to investigate “why”?


I am not a history buff…

I remember, in my 11th year of teaching middle and high school history, being asked by a colleague how I had time to teach my students about the philosophy of history, theory, and historiography. My response, “I make time” was, to large extent, the product of personal shock.  As I spoke those words, my mind raced with reflective questions. “Doesn’t every history teacher do this? Why I am being asked this? Isn’t it obvious?”

Answers to these questions came, a few months later, during a professional learning community (PLC) session to plan our mid-term exam for the 10th  grade U.S. history survey.  I thought the teacher across the table from me was joking when he said, “One of the multiple choice questions has to be about Lincoln’s Secretary of War.” (Who was it?)  I smiled at the perceived humor. However, when he added, “…and the Anaconda Plan, definitely”, I realized he was serious. I also knew that his students must be getting a very different version and understanding of history.

Edwin Stanton was Lincoln's Secretary of War. I looked it up while writing this post.

My colleague’s conviction was founded in his experience with history education, understanding of the purpose of history, and epistemology. His was rooted in a late 19th early 20th century view of history as a set body of knowledge promoted by the nation-state. In turn, if the effort to teach  theory isn’t taken, then history becomes an external “truth” to be memorized. Too often this is the case.  One result of this conception of history courses has been to hasten its relegation to a secondary status below STEM courses and ELA.

Historical thinking skills have the potential to reshape history’s purpose beyond nationalism and  socialization in an imagined community. Beyond civics, history, taught as an internal, social process of knowledge construction, emphasizes the understanding of human systems, processes, culture, causation, change, and perspective. Simply put, the present is better perceived by engaging the past, not being told it full stop. As a starting point to these ends, I suggest teachers engage students with three ideas as a basis for teaching authentic history.

  1. Historical Narrative
  2. Causation
  3. Complexity over Binary thought

How these ideas can be introduced and taught are for future posts. But, for now, note that the words “theory”, “historiography”, and “philosophy” need not be used to engage students in historical thought, and not expecting memorization as history.

Overall, I promote a change in how history is perceived and taught. One way to perform this resides in college education departments. History teachers need to be trained in historical theory as a content knowledge as well as pedagogy to teach those concepts. In turn, history courses must be expected to devote time to teaching history theory and thinking skills. Without this basis, history classes are exercises in memorization. And history teachers are nothing more than history “buffs”.