One of the great things about being married to a really excellent (professional) teacher, is getting to learn theories of education. A big one for me is Reverse Engineering. The idea is to think about what you want to end up with as specifically as possible, then work out how to get that.
The first step for me is always the question, "Why are we learning about this?" (Hint: "Because we have to. "doesn't work). In the case of US History, my answers were:
1. To understand the principles on which our nation was founded and how we have applied and misapplied them and the consequences of those decisions.
2. To understand who we are and where we came from as Americans (which develops into: so we can understand why we do things the way we do).
3.To see the commonalities and differences in the lives of people throughout history in a way that makes those people and times real to the kids.
4. To see US history as one continuous story that they are part of.
I talked this over with my friend, Fr. Mark. He's one defense away from his doctorate in History. He suggested that the real importance of learning History was to observe the consequences of decisions and learn from them. For example, the decision to permit slavery was a horrifically immoral choice that had consequences which are still echoing today.
I really agree with that as a primary reason to learn history, so I ended up selecting a Catholic history of the US as my "anchor" book. Not only does it present history as a series of moral choices, but it also presents it in a more holistic way. I grew up in NJ, and US history started with the English colonies. From that perspective, the rest of the US is simply an outgrowth of those colonies, never mind about the Spanish or the French colonies that would make up more than half the present country. Oh, yeah, and there were some people here before the colonists...
This text looks at the French and Spanish colonies alongside the English. In fact, it goes back to the Crusades and the rise of the Enlightenment as the impetus for colonization. Very interesting! It meshes very well with our World History units.
Next post, I'd like to talk about the next step in Reverse Engineering: How will you know if it worked?