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ERIC Number: EJ765207
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005-Nov
Pages: 11
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 6
ISSN: ISSN-0018-2745
Why Students Think There Are Two Kinds of American History
Waters, Tony
History Teacher, v39 n1 p11-21 Nov 2005
Students in this author's undergraduate Sociology and Social Science classes often tell him that the "history" they learned in high schools was different than the "history" they learned in university classes. They often claim that what they learned in K-12 was "wrong" and that they did not learn the "real" history until they got to college. They usually focus on the fact that K-12 history is typically taught from a triumphal "grand sweep" perspective emphasizing places and dates, and the glories of the past in general. They contrast this with a college curriculum that they say emphasizes that there were great injustices in the past. Students often feel as if they have to choose between one version, or the other. The author believes that the dichotomy between right and wrong history, right or left political views, or real and fake history is all false. In fact, he contends, there are two histories being taught, each of which is reasonable and important in the reproduction of society. The K-12 version is about affirming the logical basis as a people with a past and, by implication, a present. This version is inherently patriotic and positive. The problem, however, is that the optimism of the story told in K-12 is never consistent with what is observed in the present. This is where the role of college history comes in. College history emphasizes not only optimism and patriotism but also ambiguity and conflict. Learning this history is important because it is part of a broader "contingent" story, part of which will eventually be used to explain to children of the future a logical basis for their present. What a good college level history course does is draw the student into the wider conversation about the problems of the past. It does this in order that future citizens will have the intellectual tools to explain a present that has yet to emerge. (Contains 1 note.)
Society for History Education. California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840-1601. Tel: 562-985-2573; Fax: 562-985-5431; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools; Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: United States