Though often portrayed as black and white, history is actually more of an art than a science. Many aspects of history are open to interpretation, believe it or not. It’s not unusual for there to be simple variations of the same event; however, there are also often downright opposing accounts of certain moments in history. While this can seem frustrating or confusing at first, in fact, it makes history more dynamic and exciting to teach and learn!
Teachers at Oakley focus on why events happened and emphasize the myriad contrasting viewpoints available. Instead of using a textbook, Oakley students read a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, including:
- journals and letters
- magazine and newspaper articles (from the past and present)
- historical novels
- graphic novels and cartoons to add historical context
Rather than memorizing dates and names, we ask our students to examine different points of view and analyze how credible the “facts” really are. Critical analysis of popular interpretations of history help them become mindful consumers of media. One example of a critical analysis question posed to Oakley students is this: Was the Civil Rights Movement successful? No matter the stance, students are evaluated based on how well they develop and present their argument. Rational, evidence-based perspectives, and debate make each Oakley history lesson more relevant engaging.
Here are some tips for families to encourage critical thought:
- Instead of asking about their grades, ask what they are excited or nervous about in school. This can facilitate a conversation about their child’s learning process, instead of simply aiming for an end result.
- Ask about their point of view on a historical event/figure, and make sure to also ask why they feel that way!
Classes and family conversations need to go beyond the traditional scope of learning about history. At Oakley, it is explored in a way that emphasizes contingency, embraces debate, and encourages students to actively participate in interpreting the past and connecting it with their present.
~Justin Spitzer, History teacher at The Oakley School