Welcome to the 2018 -2019 school year, and the first post of the season. I hope your summer was inspiring, fun, and rejuvenating. Mine was… for many reasons. But, for this post, there were two events I participated in that I will not soon forget. I want to thank my colleagues involved in these experiences and share our learning with you. Enjoy and have a great school year.
So, when to start? How about June. The cover page for Foreign Affairs that month asked the question “Which World Are We Living In?” Wow! What a question to ask. Ultimately, this article is asking us to think about our worldview. But more importantly, the question recognizes that our understanding of the past directly impacts our understanding of reality. That is phenomenal – and answers very explicitly the question “why do we study history?”
Back to the Foreign Affairs article, the options the issue provides come from a selection of scholars and include the following 6 choices”
I encourage you to read the article, but more importantly I ask that you think about this question in relation to your context:
“Are the history courses you teach, support, or take framed in a way to make the connection between the past and present explicit and ask students to construct their world view?”
This question invites us to think about the concept “a usable past.” The primary aspect of a usable past recognizes that we construct our understanding of the past based on our knowledge of the past. Friedrich Nietzsche examined this in his 1874 work On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (another informative piece can be found here).
That video was superb and is a great example of student work contributing to public knowledge. This brings me to my first summer experience I mentioned above. On to Pittsburgh, PA and the Alliance for Learning in World History meeting at U. Pitt. Hosted by Dr. Molly Warsh, Associate Director of the World History Center the gathering of educators discussed contemporary teaching and learning in world history and its usability beyond the classroom. Indeed the AHA Tuning Project has been tackling these ideas in the recent past, Additionally, Dr. Bob Bain emphasized the need for history teachers to be competent in shifting scale, or levels of analysis, and teach this thinking to students. He calls this the ability to move from “parachutists to truffle-hunters” (very useful imagery) in order to determine relevance, but more importantly, to use this thinking model in their lives. David Neumann comments on this in a 2010 article stating:
“How can the competing demands of the large-scale and the small-scale be managed? As teachers seek to create texture by considering case studies around which to build lessons, they should regularly ask, “How well does this reflect larger patterns?” The right case study will draw students in through interesting people and lively events. If it is carefully chosen, it can simultaneously illustrate much larger patterns. Such an approach only works if teachers first establish a context for scale in their classroom.”
Great. To summarize, a developing the ability to think on “scales of analysis” in history is useful tool that makes the past more readily usable for our present world view. I look forward to the future work of the ALWH and if you ever go to the steel city, please stop by the fantastic Cathedral of Learning at U.Pitt and check out their nationality rooms which are still active classrooms.
Now, let’s fast forward to August and move to Radford University in southern Virginia. This was the site of a brilliant small global education event (150 participants), the third annual “R U World Ready” conference. I had the pleasure of presenting on the intersection of project based learning and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. (You can access my slide deck here). The energy of the conference struck a chord with me regarding the usable past idea that was center stage in my mind just 2 months earlier. Here is how I would summarize my belief on education entering the conference:
Teach about the past in a way that develops your students’ world view in the present.
But, I came to a realization that this wasn’t good enough. It felt incomplete. By the time I left the conference only a few hours after my arrival, my belief had evolved to the following:
Teach about the past in a way that develops your students’ world view to
understand the globalized present so that they have agency in the future.
That feels better, for now at least. Check out the R U Ready mission: “The conference serves the needs of pre-service and practicing educators striving to develop global competencies for themselves as well as their own students entering a rapidly changing and interconnected world. ”
At the center of this event was a captivating keynote address from Program Director of Liaison America, Sandra Lima Argo. Liaison America builds global competencies through programming that nurtures the “personal, cultural and professional enrichment in the life of each participant, helping them to expand their global knowledge and stimulate their sensitivity to different ways of learning and seeing the world.”
But it was one of Argo’s slides which triggered the shift in my belief I mentioned earlier. It’s simplicity, as is often with inspiration, was profound.
The top level, global teacher, is what is needed in order to prepare students for tomorrow. Every teacher should be providing students with global experiences in their classes.Failure to do this prepares students for yesterday and develops a world view that doesn’t use the past as a tool for the future but as an obstacle in their present.
So, as you start the school year, my hope is that you empower your students with the skills to understand any of the worlds mentioned in Foreign Affairs, and better yet, to conceptualize world narratives and global realities not yet realized.