Critical Thinking, Research, Communication and History

In last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, former under-secretary of the Army and retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine, wrote “students’ historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses.” Writing in reaction to the NAEP exam results for 12th-graders, Augustine pointed out that students score lower in history than in science, economics, or math. As a businessman, he is worried enough about the situation to say, “Now is the time to re-establish history’s importance in American education.”

Amen, Mr. Augustine.

In this last week, with President Obama’s decision to relax some of the provisions of NCLB (with an actual mention of the subject of history!), there seems to be hope that the winds of change might blow history’s way. I certainly hope so.

Augustine’s message galvanized my attention for another reason, however. He continues:

“It’s not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level. . . .The good news is that a candidate who demonstrates capabilities in critical thinking, creative problem solving and communication has a far greater chance of being employed today than his or her counterpart without those skills. The better news is these are not skills that only a graduate education or a stint at McKinsey can confer. They are competencies that our public elementary and high schools can and should be developing through subjects like history.”

It is not enough to restore the class time taken away from history in the past few years, or to create more stringent content standards. As Augustine notes, history teachers have to use “more modern methods” to build critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. This is also our mission at the History Blueprint. There are three pillars of the Blueprint approach – historical content, critical thinking, and literacy. Our units and lessons are built around historical focus questions, and teach students to make arguments and support them with evidence. We believe, like Augustine, that these skills can and should be taught in elementary, middle and high school. Our goal with the History Blueprint is to give teachers the curriculum, tools, and support they need to teach history in this way.

I recommend that you read all of Norm Augustine’s article:
Norm Augustine, “The Education our Economy Needs,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 21, 2011.

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