The History Curriculum in 2023

In my last post I argued that if we don’t start making some substantial changes to the history curriculum, we’ll be in a world of trouble before too much longer. I’m not a fan of those who simply predict doom without offering possible solutions. Now that the semester is over and I have more than ten minutes to think about something other than the most pressing item on my todo list, I want to propose my own possible solution to getting us out of the corner we have largely painted ourselves into.

Just to be clear from the outset, I am not going to propose what the content knowledge of that curriculum ought to be. I think that faculty in high school and postsecondary history departments around the world will continue to make very interesting decisions about the content of their courses and their curricula. My thinking, that I’m going to lay out in a series of posts over the next few days, is about the procedural knowledge we need to be teaching our students so that they can prosper in the information and service economy they will live in once they graduate.

Also, I feel the need to stipulate that I am specifically not proposing that we discontinue teaching our students analytical writing about the past or traditional research skills (e.g., how to locate and analyze primary sources). These are essential components of the history curriculum. But, as I have argued previously in this blog, these cannot be the only skills we teach and it is not necessary that every course we offer be based, at least in part, on teaching these skills. There is more to success in the economy our students will live in than being able to write a really good five-page paper based on primary sources.

My proposal for additions to the history curriculum of the future can be summed up in just four words: Making, Mining, Marking, and Mashing.

In the posts that follow in this series, I will elaborate on each of these for core concepts that I think will form essential foundations of the curriculum we ought to be developing in the coming years.  Yes, students will still be required to find and analyze primary sources, to form arguments, and to place those arguments (and the sources they find) into a larger conversation among scholars. But those skills alone will position our students ideally for the economy of 1993, not the economy of 2013, much less 2023. If we want to be true to ourselves as educators and true to our students’ needs and expectations, we need to admit that the skills we have been teaching them since the late 1890s are no longer sufficient preparation for the world those students will live in once they graduate.

You may not agree with me on the Four Ms of the future history curriculum, and if you don’t, I hope you’ll express that disagreement in very specific terms here or elsewhere (and then link back here). But I do think that you should at least consider that the very fact that we have been teaching history much the same way for more than 100 years is, in and of itself, a fact worth reflecting on. The world has changed an awful lot in the last 100 years and the fact that our teaching has changed so little in that century should give all of us pause.

So, read on as this series of posts unrolls, think about what I’m proposing, and let me know what you think. If you are at the American Historical Association annual meeting or at THATCampAHA in New Orleans, by all means track me down and tell me what you think in person. I also strongly suggest reading the Top Ed Tech Trends of 2012 by Audrey Watters of HackEducation. Much of my thinking on the history curriculum ten years hence has been influenced by Audrey’s writing about educational technology.

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