Friday, January 19, 2007

Constellation Building and Teaching History

I have been asked by students several times why they should study history. They think learning a few facts is fine but they do not expect to learn anything that is will open up a floodgate of knowledge building. The assumption on their part is that most of the past is known already and even new historical discoveries only help to fill in blanks about which is generally known. To them, exciting historical discoveries are rare and the student is unlikely to engage in that type of research in his or her life anyway. Hence, history is just boring facts.

I came upon a good analogy to help explain why I think the student may wish to study history. Robert Estabrook in 1992 wrote "Constellation Building: Leadership for Effective Schools" which was published in Contemporary Education, 63(2), pp. 91-92. In it, he wrote that leadership was much like the stars in the sky. No one star can completely light up the night sky no matter how bright the star is. In addition, by drawing different lines between stars, one can see different constellations. This is an apt metaphor for what I have learned of educational leadership. No one theory or organizational model alone can solve all problems that a leader may face. Further, by connecting theories and ideas together in different ways, new solutions can often be found which were not apparent before.

This can translate directly into teaching about history. There is a lot of historical knowledge out there. In addition, there are lots of different ways to look at the same facts. Further, there are other disciplines (religion, art, sociology, philosophy, etc.) which intersect with history and use it in different ways. The job of the students is to look at the stars (the historical facts and different perspectives) and in their own minds create new constellations (new lines) with the knowledge. History is not static and dull but instead a way for students to use their insight to see that what is known in new ways.

Not all students buy into this view. However, some students do appreciate this explanation and seem to view history more seriously. In my way, I think keeping this blog is following this tradition as maybe I am helping a reader or two find their own new historical constellations.

1 comment:

JB said...

As a graduate student in Secondary Education, I am pleased to see this post. I have been wondering lately how I am going to make history personal for students. Personal connections between students and their studies seem to equal success or so I have been told over and over again at Duquesne University. The next chance I get I am going to take a look at that article, and look forward to more intriging and useful posts. Thank you.