Wineburg, Sam. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Act: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. Xiv + 255 ppg.
For a book that is 15 years old, this has aged quite well. Sam Wineburg has expanded upon his original ideas and now has a major education project going at Stanford University. Right now he is working on the ways that studying history can assist in reading comprehension with his Reading Like a Historian program as part of the Stanford History Education Group. I like this book because Wineburg was one of the first to challenge the older methods of history education. Since the publication of this book many teachers have begun to change their pedagogical philosophy. Unfortunately that is not the case for most college professors because they are still relying upon lecture to inform students.
The book is practically a must read for anyone who wants to teach history at any level. He explains why the study of history is important. It really is. Just watch the current presidential election and the mangling of history going on by all candidates, some more so than others. It is evident that history education has not seen many gains in a century and that has a lot to do with the way it is taught. Wineburg addresses the challenges students and teachers face in learning about history and how to confront the challenges and overcome them. The final chapter cover history as national memory which is an entire field in its own right.
I really enjoyed reading the book and use pieces as quotes for my own teaching. Students in my classes find out on the first day that this is not about the memorization of facts, but rather learning why things happened and what their effect on us today is. Thanks to Wineburg, I get their attention and then plant the seeds of inquiry which leads to some interesting discussions later in the semester. This book is all part of the development of training history teachers to think outside the box and get past the lecture so that students are actually learning. Wineburg also addresses the pathetic methods of assessment which have been handicapping teachers for decades. It is time to get rid of the multiple choice questions and move to the essay based exams. That is the only real way to see if students are learning.
Thinking about history is unnatural according to Wineburg. He is correct. Most people do not even consider the past at all. Yet, their lives are heavily intertwined with history on a daily basis. It is interesting how many people do not know much of anything about history, yet make decisions that rely upon their bad knowledge all the time. Thanks to people like Wineburg and his authoring of this book, we can begin to bring that to their attention and work on making them appreciate history.