Content Area Reading #3 -Why Study History?

Social Studies for Secondary Schools: Teaching to Learn, Learning to Teach. Alan J. Singer, 4th edition, 2015.

I read chapters 1 and 2 of Singer’s “Social Studies for Secondary Schools”. I decided to read these chapters for the required content area reading because although I have been enjoying “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, I thought it would be refreshing to switch things up a bit.

The first chapter, entitled “Who Am I?” summarizes Singer’s background and journey to becoming involved in education.  There were many important events throughout his life that shaped his worldview and his educational philosophy, including his unsatisfactory educational experiences, his student teaching, his early teacher years, and everything in between.

“Why Study History?” the second chapter, Singer explains the importance of studying this subject.  Singer claims that history and social sciences include not only “information about the past and present – that part is laid out effectively in textbooks – but also ideas about how practitioners of these disciplines work, insights into the motivation of people and societies, opinions about the way the world operates and changes, and theories about the connections among past, present, and future” (p. 16).  Essentially, Singer distinguishes history from social studies, defines historical facts and theories, discusses how to teach controversial topics, and more.

Three Things I Learned I Don’t Want to Forget:

  • 1. I liked Singer’s definition of history: “(1) events from the past – ‘facts,’ (2) the process of gathering and organizing information from the past – historical research, (3) explanations about the relationships between specific historical events, and (4) broader explanations of ‘theories’ about how and why change takes place.” (p.18)
  • 2. Social Studies approach to history: alternative to chronology – curriculum is based on broad social studies concepts and themes. Student generated questions are important, as well as the incorporation of contemporary issues.
  • 3. Great quote by Singer – “If we are to be currriculum creators rather than just currculum consumers, social studies teachers must be lifetime students.  We also must become historians and social scientists ourselves. Rather than seeing this as a chore, I think it is part of the great fun of our profession.” (p.27)

Two Controversial Ideas/Things I Disagree With

  • 1. Making moral and political judgments about the past using information and explanations from studying history – do historians have that special privilege?
  • 2. Singer references Mill 1963, in describing 18th/19th century British philosophers who “argued that decision [of political and economic judgments] should be evaluated based on whether they provided the greatest good for the greatest number.” I wonder – what groups fall under that “greater number”? Can you justify the “greater good” when it oppresses people? Kills people?  When Hitler said it would be for the “greater good” of Germany to exterminate the Jews, were his actions justified?

1 Question

  • 1. When looking at the causes of a historical event, how do you determine the value of these causes (which is the most significant cause of the American Civil War, for example)?
Content Area Reading #3 -Why Study History?

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