Williamsburg’s colossal miscalculation; more proof that we are failing history students; facts vs. processes in the classroom

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Colossal miscalculation by Colonial Williamsburg: as you guys know, I am a fan of this historic site, but boy did they step into it with their Super Bowl ad. It only ran in the DC, Philadelphia, and New York markets, but they posted an extended version of it online the day before it was set to run during the Super Bowl. I took a look at it then, and was immediately struck by how poorly conceived it was, but when the scene of the towers getting hit on 9/11 popped up, my instant reaction was to wince. Who’s brilliant idea was that? If I had such a reaction, I felt pretty sure this thing was going to really stir up some anger in New York (and DC!). Did no one see that one coming? There have been a lot of questionable choices made lately by their current leadership (from big things like pirate zombies at Halloween, to small things like messing with the menus and environments in their taverns), but this one caused a firestorm that has achieved exactly the opposite of what they were hoping. They tried to respond to the widespread criticism, but really only made it worse. If your message got lost because of a jarring image, the message and the image are to blame. (And then there is all that American exceptionalism in the commercial, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

Ran across another of those videos on a college campus of students getting asked basic history/political questions and failing miserably. This stuff breaks my heart (especially black students that can’t even identify who won the Civil War), but it shows me that we as teachers are simply failing to get this stuff into their long term memory. I have no doubt these kids did just fine in their high school and college history classes, but the stuff just didn’t stick. That’s on us as educators:

Along those lines: here’s a piece today from Atlantic thats makes a strong case for narrative history in the classroom, and the “case method.” Along the way, the article considers the question of whether “history classes should be about acquiring facts and information, or should they emphasize historical thinking abilities and processes?” Honestly, I believe the video above is a product of classes that go either all one way, or all the other. The “acquiring facts” model ensures only that students will shove things into short term memory. The “processes” model ensures that the students might fail to learn basic facts. It can’t be all one way, or the other. Right?

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