If you have been on our website’s homepage recently, you may have noticed a change. Now, when you head to thinkingnation.org, you see this slogan:
As we talked about last month, we are seeking a teaching revolution. One where the history classroom is more than just learning about the past, but learning how to understand the past. In short, one where historical thinking is prized. Today, we are going to look at some of the profound benefits of being able to think historically.
First, historical thinking empowers. As a principle, education should empower students. Yes, knowledge is power, but perhaps wisdom is the type of power we should all seek. While knowledge is critical, wisdom is the ability to discern what to do with that knowledge. The ability to think historically, to reason with the past, helps us to exercise that wisdom. It empowers us. When students learn about the past, no matter how inspiring the story, if they can’t think historically about the past, they are more like an encyclopedia than a true student. But when students contextualize the past, identify patterns and change, causes, and can make historical comparisons, they are empowered to actively engage with the past and not merely be passive receivers of a particular narrative. That empowerment builds confidence with how they engage with their present. A particular narrative no longer needs to be simply accepted, but it can be interrogated and wrestled with. Historical thinking empowers them to do so.
Historical thinking promotes equity. There is a clear gap in our educational world. Students who have historically had access to a variety of resources consistently do better than students who haven’t. Numerous schools and organizations have dedicated their time and energy to closing this gap, but we still have a lot to do. One thing we can focus on is equipping students to think historically. While knowing about a diverse past is critical to helping students see themselves in others, we must also equip students to reason with the past. We must work hard to push our students to think critically about the documents and people of the past. We must work to equip our students to analyze historical perspectives. We must work to help our students articulate their analysis in clear, evidence-based writing. When students feel like they can draw their own conclusions about the past because they have been taught to think historically, they are better able to engage in dialogue about robust topics, even if those they dialogue with know more than them. As the adage goes, we must teach students how to think and not what to think. If historically-disadvantaged students are empowered with the above skills, we will have a more equitable education system.
Lastly, historical thinking cultivates citizens. At the core of who we are at Thinking Nation is our desire to cultivate thinking citizens. We want students to be equipped with the skills to participate in a robust democracy. Part of these skills is the ability to think historically. While we live in “the information age” we also live in an era of disinformation. In order to sustain democracy, students need to be able to sift through a variety of sources and perspectives, make analytical judgments, and draw evidence-based conclusions. The study of the past is an excellent way to cultivate these skills. When students engage with history, they have to ask deep and difficult questions about the nature of people and their decisions. These skills, embedded in the ability to think historically, allow students to be informed citizens, ready to tackle the issues of the present in order to preserve democracy.
The ability to think historically is central to our curriculum. We believe that historical thinking empowers, promotes equity, and cultivates citizens. Join us as we use the study of the past to build a more democratic future.