Psycho-history: An Integrated Approach to the Teaching of History in the High School
Winstanley, Andrew James
MA (Master of Arts), History
MA (Master of Arts), History
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History teaching in schools has sometimes been condemned as dull and irrelevant to life. This is not surprising when one recalls the weary round of talk (unrelieved by chalk) and of dictated notes to be learned and then tested. Such methods almost guarantee boredom, particularly as much of the subject matter is incomprehensible to the young in the form in which it is presented. In no other subject, it seems, is there so much teaching and so little learning. To those who are convinced that history has an essential place in the curriculum of a school, it seems vital that its inclusion be justified by successful teaching. This does not mean that standards should be lowered, or that entertainment should replace learning. Indeed, it is vital that history should not be regarded as a soft option. It is the history teacher's task to experiment, to vary and adjust his methods to assure that the area to be covered is mapped, walked over, climbed and conquered. It's all too easy to make a period of history a no-man's land that no man cares about.A child enters the world without knowledge of it. In the long run, what he can know and believe about the world depends on the attitude he learns to adopt toward it and toward himself. His early years are spent in exploring what the world contains, how he feels about what he discovers and how to cope with the small private sector which he occupies. Although rarely labeled as such, this exploration is education-- a set of personal experiences in which the child's senses and emotions are so completely fused with his intellect that he does not separate the knowledge that he possesses from the way he feels about it. Through the normal course of growing up in his culture, each child is taught what he is intended to know. His sense of identity and attitudes depend on the cultural background in which they are developed. In order to learn, it is necessary to be able to relate new knowledge to something already known, and to look at the world from one's own point of view. This process necessarily narrows what the world looks like to a single perspective, thus distorting its reality. Only history can provide a truly comprehensive picture of the world as it is.Since it is the attitude taken toward the world which is decisive in what one learns to think and know about it, it is with the creation of attitudes that the teacher of history is unavoidably concerned. This does not mean agreement or disagreement with specific political, social or world views, but attitudes which support rational inquiry versus dogma and prejudice, independent thinking versus uncritical acceptance of social norms, tolerance towards opposing views versus ethnocentricism, the achievement of a large view of world society versus a parochial view of one's own.In considering the past education of history teachers, it is important to remember that during the early years in school a student is totally immersed in "Everybody's American Culture", usually that of the white, middle class, and that school teachers are more likely to adopt current social and political norms than to challenge them. Public school teachers in America are regarded not as intellectual and social leaders, but as the carriers of the conventional wisdom under the direction of those elected and appointed officials who represent that wisdom. There is a sizable and convincing body of research which confirms the fact that whatever else may be taught in the American public schools, one major effect of school attendance is to create an acceptance of the existing social order, of the American world view and its attendant national and international policies. A future history teacher has deliberately been taught to see the world and the world's affairs from an American point of view, from the point of view of one who accepts the ideal of American superiority in the realms of political and social systemsJ It might be suggested that the history teacher has a much more demanding role to play than that of a political conservative, a jingoistic isolationist or a bridge builder between the past and present.It is not the purpose of this thesis to support a particular view of the nature of history. The very word 'history' has several senses in English. It could refer to the events of the past, to the actual happenings themselves. History could also mean a record or account of these events. Finally, it couldrefer to a discipline, a field of study that has developed a set of methods by which its practitioners can collect evidence of past events, evaluate that evidence and present a coherent and meaningful discussion of it.A study of the meaning of history seems to suggest that an historian is concerned with attitudes and values, not only of the past, but, by projection, of the present and future. Attitudes and values are determinants of how people will act and react in their daily lives, and thus determine, to a great extent, the mental health of a society. History, therefore, is directly involved with human behavior. To teach history successfully, one must take into account the processes whereby attitudes and values are transmitted, the needs of individuals and the science of human behavior. In this sense, a careful search for all possible significant information might well lead one to support the view of Robert J. Shafer. "The concepts and experimental data of modern psychology are of great value to historians." It is towards a better understanding of the interrelationship of history and psychology that this thesis is concerned.