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Rounding Up Unusual Suspects: Facing the Authority Hidden in the History Classroom


by Robert B Bain — 2006

Educational reform literature is filled with criticism of the omniscient tone that teachers and textbooks assume in history classrooms. Such widely acknowledged criticism often accompanies calls for more ambitious pedagogy. The focus on teachers and texts essentially ignores the ritualized and traditional deference that students afford to the authority of texts and teachers. Disturbing these rituals is essential for reform pedagogy to take root. However, we lack examples of successful classroom alternatives, namely descriptions of challenging history instruction that treats textbooks and teachers from within the discipline. This article provides such an example by considering activities that encourage students to question the omniscient tones of history text and teacher. Using my high school history classroom as a case study, I consider two questions: What might encourage students to raise disciplined suspicions of the typical sources of scholastic authority? Further, what might we learn about history instruction by trying to situate textbooks and teachers within the realm of historical inquiry—that is, making them the objects of students' historical study? The article suggests ways to narrow the gap between reform rhetoric and pedagogical predicament when confronting the classroom authority of text and teacher.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 10, 2006, p. 2080-2114
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12723, Date Accessed: 10/17/2017 11:18:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Robert Bain
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    BOB BAIN is an assistant professor of history and social studies education in the University of Michigan’s School of Education. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Case Western Reserve University. Before coming to the University of Michigan, Bain taught high school history and social studies for 26 years in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. He studies the teaching and learning of history in a variety of instructional settings, including K–16 classrooms and museums. His research focuses on students learning history, teachers learning to teach history, and the cognitive tools to support such learning. A central tenet of this work is that because it is a distinctive form of knowledge, history teaching is, or should be, a distinctive epistemic activity. Recent publications include “‘They Thought the World was Flat?’ Principles in Teaching High School History” in How Students Learn: History, Math and Science in the Classroom (Washington: National Academy Press, 2005) and “Issues and Options in Creating a National Assessment in World History” in The History Teacher (forthcoming). In 2000, the Carnegie Foundation selected him as a member of its Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
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