Rare Books

There is a general consensus among EduPundits that teacher quality is more important than student academic work in producing student academic achievement. That is mistaken. There is a general consensus among Social Studies educators that High School students are incapable of reading one complete History book and writing one History research paper each year. That is also wrong. 


We are not surprised that our High School students can take two years of calculus and three years of Mandarin, among other challenging courses, yet we still believe that they are not intellectually strong or diligent enough to make their way through one complete History book. We don’t seem to think they can write a decent research paper either, which has led to all the college expository writing courses which have sprung up over the years to repair their lack of preparation for college work, but that is another topic. 


As a test of this theory that secondary students are unable read a History book and discuss it until they reach college (if then), the TCR History Seminar has just concluded an 8-week online course of the reading and discussion of actual complete History books, not by High School students, but by Middle School students. Middle School students from the U.S., Hong Kong, and China met online with two seminar leaders to read and discuss: The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough, Churchill, by John Keegan, Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson, and Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.


The results of this test indicate that the EduPundits and Social Studies educators are quite wrong in their low opinion of the capability of secondary students to read and discuss complete History books. David McCullough is easier than either Calculus or Mandarin.


So long as the English Departments in the schools, with their preference for fiction and personal writing, have a monopoly on standards and assignments for reading and writing, the benefits of this daring test might possibly be lost. It will be up to History and Social Studies educators to take up the challenge, and to ask their students to read complete History books (not brief excerpts and chapters from the textbook) and discuss them. Not only are they likely to be happily surprised by the capabilities thus revealed, but students will actually be on their way to better preparation for reading college books and writing college term papers. They will also have more knowledge and understanding of History and a better appreciation of the civilization they are inheriting. 


Do try it! We should not keep students away from complete ordinary History books by treating them as if they were Rare Books to be locked away in the Library—too precious for ordinary students to read. For more information contact: Steven Lee at steven@TCR History Camp <steven.lee@tcr.org>.

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“Teach with Examples”
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This entry was posted in College prep, Curriculum & Instruction, History, Humanities, K-12, Reading & Writing, Social Studies, Will Fitzhugh. Bookmark the permalink.

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