Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evaluating Presidential Candidates

Every election cycle, I see several questionnaires or surveys circulated that tell you which presidential candidate you are most like, or which one you are most closely aligned with, or where you fall on the political spectrum.

While a candidate's ideology is an important consideration when judging candidates, there are two other areas that are often overlooked.

Overall, there are three areas of criteria a voter should consider when judging candidates in general:

This includes the candidate's stances on issues, specific policy positions, political philosophy, etc. Where do they stand on the Right-Left spectrum? Or the libertarian-authoritarian spectrum? Have their positions changed over time. If so, why?

What are their key traits? Looks for traits such as honesty, integrity, and commitment. How do they treat others? What kind of language do they use - not just their words, but their tone and attitude, even their body language?

Skills and Experience
These include their management and leadership experience, their domain knowledge in areas such as governance, law, legislation, foreign affairs, economics, etc., and also their education level and background. It also includes their life experiences - where did they grow up? What unique perspectives can they bring to the office? What life experiences (public or private) most shaped their life?

Many more examples from each area could be given. How are their communication skills? Can they set goals, investigate problems and new ideas? Can they appropriately structure a problem in order to solve it, and communicate those solutions?

Can they ask good questions, and interpret and evaluate new information? Can they share, critique, and test ideas at different levels?

You get the idea. There's much more to a candidate than their ideology. And, these three criteria are really broad. In fact, they overlap a lot.

For example, their ideology often stems from their skills and experiences. The more one knows about a subject the more informed their position will be. But, unfortunately, we have seen too many candidates form opinions that are not backed up by authoritative evidence or based on research and reliable data.

In some ways, one's character can be reflected in their skills or experience. An experienced candidate will be more likely to have the integrity to consider issues objectively, listen to others, be considerate, passionate, bold, and and firm on certain issues. They know when to act impulsively and when to slow down and work rationally.

One's ideology can be influenced by their character. It can take character to take a particular policy stance. One's character can often be judged in part by their stances - what is important to them, their goals, and vision for society or the way they think things "ought to be."

Good decision-making skills often require good character and knowledge of a topic. But, good leaders don't always have to be the experts. Rather, a trait of a good leader is to be a judge of character in others, and to know how to seek out the experts in order to make an informed opinion.

Now, some may say that it isn't really fair to judge someone on their character. Isn't it unfair to judge them on such a personal level? After all, do we really know the person? Have we sat down with them face to face?  How can someone really say they know a candidate's character? Well, we can't; but the best evidence of their character is their prior actions and performance.

When it comes to weighing these three areas, one's character is most important. Their skills and experience are next, and ideology is the last consideration of the three. For example, I would rather elect someone who was honest and trustworthy than someone I agree with 100% on policy issues. In fact, there has never been a candidate that I agree with 100% on every issue. But, there have been candidates who I can trust to make appropriate decisions.

One last thought - it takes character to be a judge of good character. I think as our society in general declines in moral standards and conduct, we'll see a proportionate amount of decline in the moral character of our elected officials. Keep that in mind as you vote this election season.

Now, take a few moments to judge the following candidates based on these three criteria. How do they measure up? What additional information do you need to effectively weigh them against these criteria?

  • Jeb Bush*
  • Ben Carson*
  • Chris Christie*
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Ted Cruz
  • John Kasich
  • Martin O'Malley*
  • Marco Rubio
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Donald Trump
  • Jim Webb*
*Dropped out since first declaring candidacy

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Millennial's Manifesto

While I fall into the age category of being a "Millennial," I first cringed at identifying myself as one. After all, I don't share a lot of the stereotypes of a Millennial (whatever that means, right?).

Before going further, here are some great resources from Pew Research to bring you up to speed on Millennial demographics:

Like most Millennials, I am between ages 18-35. My wife and I were both in our late 20s when we had our first child. We do not own a house. I had difficulty finding a job after college and so I do not have a job related to my undergraduate degree.

But, I differ in a few keys ways. I'm married (or rather, I married relatively early). I participate in organized religion. I am debt free and I am working on an advanced degree.

We Millennials been accused of feeling entitled, of being anti-social, and technology addicts. Now, I don't pretend to speak for all Millennials; but as one of them, I'm entitled to some latitude in vindicating and explaining ourselves.

Already, I've used the one word used most often to describe us - "entitled." We have been branded as the entitlement generation (perhaps with a little accuracy.) But, there's more beneath the surface - things the current statistics can't explain or describe.

Millennials are just trying to pursue the American Dream. What's so wrong about that? We just interpret the idea of what "the American Dream" means in different ways than past generations.

But, when it comes to work, we are disenchanted by the back-breaking hours of our parents' generation. We don't want to be rich now, but we do need our basic needs to be fulfilled (ever heard of Maslow?). Why put in 60-70 hours a week for 40 years, just to enjoy the last 20 years of our lives? Why not just work 40 hours a week and enjoy all 60 years?

Thus, Millennials' emphasis on health and activity. We know we'll be living a long time, so we also know we'll be working a long time. We want to be able to enjoy those years in good health.

We are also tech savvy if you haven't noticed. While one of our generation's vices might be our over-use of technology for entertainment purposes, we have a keen sense of its power to improve our lifestyle and productivity. We'd rather have the latest phone in our pocket and the latest software on our device than have a fancy sports car. It is our generation's way of getting around.

More importantly, we've become frustrated with and confused at complex social and economic systems - health care, stock markets, public education, higher education, and cultural rituals like college admissions and the job interview/application process - all are systems that are supposed to be helping us rather than hurting us. So, it's not that we feel we deserve certain privileges, but that we just want things to work and be simple. Why shouldn't these things be designed to benefit everyone, rather than a few?

We are not politically apathetic. Rather, we are disillusioned with the current system and the two major parties. (Hey, our boots may be new, but this isn't our first rodeo!). We've quickly realized that neither party has the capacity to enact any real meaningful change. We are very much concerned about the state of the nation, as well as local issues. We simply struggle to find organizations that promote our values in a way that is meaningful to us.

We do want families and children, we just want to be stable enough to enjoy family life and provide for our children. Sure, we might mature a little later than previous generations, but we still want to be functioning adults. Perhaps some of us just need a little more help in adjusting to adult life.

Millennials have been at the front lines of the recent libertarian-streaked movement against police brutality. When it comes to our attitude towards authority, it's not that we don't trust authority figures, it's just that we have high expectations for them. These authority figures also include teachers and doctors. After all, our parents taught us that these are important people in society and as such we expect them to fulfill their roles. We want to be able to trust authority figures, but are disappointed when we can't.

We don't have the same notions of "equality" as our parent's generation. Equality is not a threat to us or our way of life, and we are skeptical of those who try to artificially fix the system in the name of equality. We want to be free to treat others equally and are more accepting of those who differ from us. In fact, an increasing percentage of us Millennials belong to minority groups, so we get it.

We're already beginning to get a glimpse of the post-Millennial generation. Those born shortly after the 1995 "cut-off" year are those just entering college now. They probably don't remember September 11, 2001 (think about that really hard for a moment). Those older Millennials born in the early 1980s probably have two or three children now. You think Millennials are hard to deal with? Believe me, this new generation scares us as much as our generation scares our parents.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Kingdom of Noise

I recently began taking lessons to learn to play the great highland bagpipes. While some may think this is a noisy and obnoxious instrument, I find I am drawn to and inspired by its humming drones and emphatic notes. Perhaps it is simply my Scottish ancestry manifesting itself. But, I think there's more to it than that.

Music is used to express oneself. So, it follows that the instrument of choice is often a reflection of one's expressions. The pipes are an elegant instrument, used anciently for battles and funerals. True to their original intent, the pipes express some of the most poignant human emotions associated with those events - sorrow, longing, courage, joy, and enthusiasm.

"There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven." 
- Brigham Young
To properly explain and expound on the concept of the Kingdom of Noise, there must first be a distinction made between noise and music

After the first performance of "Messiah" the composer Handel responded to a compliment, saying, "My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them - I wish to make them better."

Music uplifts, inspires, cultivates, moves, awakens the senses, wholesome passions and public emotions. In contrast, noise deafens, dulls, depresses, destroys, downplays, demonizes, and decays all that is good and wholesome. 

Therefore, there is no music in hell - only noise. 

To the natural man - the guilty conscience - real music may seem like noise. That is because they are living in a state of hell, in enmity with God and man. They will only hear noise or rather hear noise that they mistake to be music. They must change their view of themselves and the world in order to hear real music. 

To those living in a state of faith, hope, and charity - heaven on earth - even simple noises can become music to the ears or the heart. I specifically remember a time when I was a young boy. I was in my room digging loudly through a bucket of Legos when my dad called me from below the balcony. I came out and with a smile he said, "That's music to my ears." He told me to keep playing with them. 

The world is full of noise and it is becoming increasingly louder. And it's all part of the Adversary's plan or scheme. After all, how can we possibly hear the subtle whispering of the Holy Ghost over the shrill noises of the day? Loud concerts, cars, computers, TV, video games, movies, gossip, cell phones, the list goes on. When we remove or reduce these things from our lives, we are better able to hear the Holy Ghost and the sweet music brought by the Spirit. But, any time we add to the noise, we are building the Kingdom of Noise, a vassal state to Satan's Kingdom. 

During the Lord's earthly ministry as recorded in the New Testament, He calmed a storm by the simple words, "Peace, be still." Again, to demon-ridden minds clouded by dual consciousness, he had but to speak, "Peace, be still."

Oh, how we could use the same admonishment today. Be still. Be reverent. Slow down. Take the time to think, to listen, and to hear the music around us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Slow Death of the Utah Republican Party

In this debacle surrounding SB54 and CMV, things are quickly reaching a boiling point. Will the UT GOP choose deep change on its own terms, or slow death by an increase in voter apathy and a continued decrease in membership?

A few years ago, I left the Republican Party when the door was open. Now, just when I think I'm ready to come back, I find the door being slammed shut. This makes me sad, not because of a lost opportunity for me, but because I clearly see a lost opportunity for the party. I'm beginning to realize the party is actually closing the door on itself. 

Robert E. Quinn, an organizational change expert, in his book Deep Change, stated, "Organizations are coalitional. The dominant coalition in an organization is seldom interested in making deep change. Hence, deep change is often, but not always, driven from the outside." 

While Quinn's research in organizational change may inform the party leadership's behavior, this issue is not a dichotomous battle between the party and the state, between the "inside" and the "outside." There are many competing coalitions involved - the state, the voters (no matter their affiliation or ideology), and the party's officers at various levels. In reality, the dominant coalition just has to meet a new and wider set of expectations.

But, without those who vote for Republican candidates (whether in the primary or general election) the party effectively ceases to exist. So, voters demands and wishes ought not to be ignored. But the party need not lose control either. 

As long as die-hard Republicans are framing this issue as a one-or-the-other debate, they will prolong the battle and perhaps never reach a favorable resolution. So, which will it be? Change from within? Or a coercive change from the outside? Either way, the process will be painful. So, which one is more likely to help the party maintain its integrity and viability?

Deep change can be painful. It requires us to challenge closely-held assumptions and creates uncertainty. But the choice of deep change over slow death brings more rewarding outcomes and opportunities than can otherwise be anticipated.

I hope the Utah Republican Party chooses wisely. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Definition(s) of Marriage

The recent Supreme Court decision (or lack thereof) has prompted many to think that the issue is settled once and for all. In reality, only one side of a multi-faceted debate has won a battle, and no one has won the war yet. There are still many issue to be resolved. Its unfortunate that people think the issue is settled only because they now have what they wanted - regardless if a majority is still left with many more unanswered questions than there were before. The issue still has the potential to tear our society to pieces if it is not truly resolved.

We all want equality in marriage. No one is asking for certain marriages to be treated differently than other marriages; such a demand has never been voiced to my knowledge by anyone involved in the public discourse.

The real question is - how do (or should) we define marriage? I don't mean from a religious or moral point of view. I'm talking about a public policy point of view. Why is government involved in marriage in the first place? Should the government be involved in it? All sides of the debate are asking the government to be involved in defining marriage in varying degrees, in various ways, and for various ends. Some want states to decide. Some want the federal government to decide. Some want courts to decide. Others want legislatures to decide.

The root issue is that we as a society can't agree on a definition of marriage, just like we can't agree on a definition for "education" or "freedom" or "security". The roots of this conversation go back much further than the modern gay rights movement.

This is not a matter of choosing between one definition or another. It is narrow- and simple-minded to think that we must choose between only two definitions of marriage; the issue is much more complex than that. There are more than two definitions of marriage being thrown around in this debate. In fact, I suggest there are six competing and overlapping definitions, each supported by different arguments that are emphasized by different camps. Each definition may have virtue in its own right, but each leaves some gaping holes in its implications.

Definition #1: Marriage is a purely romantic/sexual relationship. We should be free to marry who we love.

This definition outright ignores children's role in the marriage relationship, and turns the focus to adult pleasure. It also assumes that government is preventing someone from loving another. Let's not pretend that we need government's permission to love or to publicly state our commitment to another person. Any couple can do that without the state's permission. What advocates of this definition are really looking for is for the government to legitimize their lifestyle, so that they cannot be refused certain services or accommodations.

But, if we accept this definition, then why can someone not love more than one person at a time? Government discriminating against polygamous people is just as bad as government discriminating against homosexual people. We must ask ourselves, why is the government in the love business at all? The vagueness of this definition only shows that there must be more to marriage than love or sexual fulfillment. Lastly, this definition does not even require a sexual relationship - only a mutually-agreed-upon relationship, as these two men in New Zealand demonstrated. Unless we invite the government into our bedrooms (heaven forbid) government cannot control the degree to which marriage is a sexual relationship. Anyone who accepts this definition of marriage must also logically and legally accept the actions of these two men.

Definition #2: Marriage is a partnership between two adults, and is formed strictly as a means to achieve certain economic ends.

An economic model is a compelling argument. But, then, can a daughter and father marry if they find it economically and mutually beneficial? What about two brothers? Again, this definition ignores the raising of children, especially when it is economically unwise. It also ignores sexuality, which every other definition takes into account. Surely, marriage ought to have a sexual aspect to it, or at least an emotional aspect. In short, we should all know that marriage (and by extension, family) is about more than just money.

Definition #3: Marriage is designed for the creation and rearing of children.

The strongest argument supporting this definition is the fact that only heterosexual couples have the potential to have children (homosexual couples must invoke a third party to produce a child). Yet, it's not a requirement for a married couple to have kids, nor are you required to be married if you happen to have kids. So this argument isn't really about marriage. And while homosexual couples can't exclusively produce children, they can certainly raise them.

So, this definition leaves us squabbling over what kind of sexual relationship - homosexual or heterosexual - is better for raising children. The jurors of sociology, psychology, and family science are still out on this question. Research has not proven the superiority of one over the other. So, should we be leaving government to experiment with children by adopting untested ideas and parading them around as sound public policy? Public policy should be based on sound and time-tested empirical research, not fads or public opinion. Gay marriage is a fad, not in the sense that it is temporary (its definitely here to stay) but that it is untested and new as a government policy.

Religion is also cited when using this definition, But, remember, I'm not talking about religion here. I'm talking about public policy, which certainly has an interest in the raising of children - otherwise, why have public schools, or child protection services? The fact that those who oppose this definition do not consider the welfare of children is more than a little concerning.

Definition #4: Marriage is a government-granted license, like a business license or drivers license, that brings with it certain rights or privileges for the involved parties.

This has been the history of marriage in the last few centuries. As our modern world has become more complex with legal and financial benefits, governments have granted certain privileges to those who are married, supposedly in order to promote replacement population growth and economic stability. But, these rights, such as who receives one's insurance and tax benefits, should naturally belong to everyone and are not inherent in a marriage relationship; they ought not to be granted by government alone. This definition also has the potential to violate religious freedom under the First Amendment. If a church wants to define marriage other than as it is defined by the state, the government would be violating that church's rights. Under this definition, a church cannot issue a marriage license that does not conform to the state's definition.

Definition #5: Marriage is a natural human right that government should protect by granting to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Again, this places the emphasis on adult rights, instead of responsibilities. And, it is entirely without precedent. Marriage itself has never been an explicit constitutional right (as have free speech, or trial by jury); but instead, governments for centuries have granted certain rights to those who are married (see Definition #4), such as tax benefits. Marriage should certainly be a freedom, but not a right.

Definition #6: Marriage is a religious institution - like baptism - that should be left for religions to determine.

While this libertarian approach seems to address the concerns of Definition #4, it does not address how rights that would traditionally be associated with marriage should be transferred between adults. If marriage is not the mechanism to transfer these rights or benefits, what is that mechanism? It would be left up to legislators and courts to determine this mechanism, leaving a very messing and cumbersome democratic process to fill in the gaps. It also ignores government's responsibility in promoting the interests of children (the future generations) and stable family units, thus undermining the advantages of Definitions #2 and #3. Society would view "marriage" as optional. Many European countries have tried this route in order to preserve religious freedom. But, we've seen dramatic demographic changes in these countries that have a direct impact on economic growth and security.


My purpose in writing this post is not to argue for one definition over another. Rather, I leave some food for thought for the reader to digest. Namely, recognizing these differing definitions begs certain questions:

Does a sovereign state have the right to adopt only one of these definitions, to the exclusion of all others? Or can a state adopt whichever one they want?

Must a definition be adopted by court edict? Or can a people collectively decide which definition they prefer? Perhaps different definitions lend themselves to different means of implementation.

Can the government re-define what it means to be a husband? A father? To be a mother or wife? Conceivably, yes, but we better be careful if we attempt to do so. We are opening a Pandora's Box of socio-economic upheaval if we do so without caution and without regard for future generations.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Birds and the Bees

I've thought I have had a pretty good understanding of the birds and the bees - in other words, I know where babies come from. Unless things have changed since I was given "the talk", I am worried that a lot of other people don't understand it the way I do. Somehow, our society seems to have lost sight of the facts of that lesson and have replaced them with a few myths. In order to dispel these myths, perhaps our society is collectively over-due for "the talk". Here we go. 

Marriage was not created so that adults could have hospital visitation rights or insurance benefits. These are simply benefits that have been arbitrarily attached to marriage by the state. Marriage existed long before these government-granted rights existed. A state should be able to find a way to grant these rights to all individuals under the law, and yet still retain traditional marriage as a privilege for the purpose of perpetuating society and promoting and preserving a healthy economy and healthy future generations. Here's why:

The institution of marriage was not designed for the sole benefit, pleasure, or convenience of adults. In fact, marriage was designed for children. Whether or not traditional marriage has desirable side-effects for adults is still open for debate (tongue-in-cheek). Marriage is - uniquely - an inherently selfless institution. It's sole purpose is to produce and nurture children. A relationship that is not designed to produce and nurture children cannot and should not be equated with a relationship that is designed to do so. It would be unequal to try to equate the two in every aspect imaginable. Now, whether or not that relationship is capable of producing a child is irrelevant, as infertile heterosexual individuals may still marry. All that matters is what that relationship was designed for

Under no circumstances can a same-sex relationship ever produce a child on its own.  This is a scientific fact. Surely homosexuals are aware of this (I know they're not that ignorant). Two men who get married cannot be marrying each other for the purpose of producing a child together (no matter how much they may want a child). They simply can't. A same-sex relationship must involve a third person outside that relationship in order to produce a child, no matter what type of conceptional or gestational  method is used. On the other hand, a heterosexual couple (even an infertile couple using IVF, for example) does not need to involve a third person in order to produce a child. The child is produced entirely within that marriage. 

These two types of "marriages" are fundamentally different in their purpose and role in society. This difference alone (and it's impact on children) ought to be enough to treat the two differently - instead of trying to make equal what can never be equal. Remember - I'm not discussing rights here; I'm discussing children.

Both types of relationships are just as capable of adopting a child, one might argue. However, a single person is also capable of adopting a child under the law and raising that child successfully.  Adoption is praiseworthy and is a much better alternative to abortion, but even a single person cannot produce a child on their own. In any case, the adopted child was already produced by one man and one woman. No child was or could ever be produced in any other way than by using both genders and only one of each gender. Now, only one of these two types of marriages involves only one of each gender. There is simply no other alternative, so why are we attempting to create one under the law?

So, which is superior when it comes to producing children? Should we not strive for the ideal? Traditional marriage is obviously the ideal if we are concerned about perpetuating our society in a healthy way. It's not simply a matter of having 50% of the relationship involve each gender, otherwise two men and two women would also be considered ideal. Nor is it about having at least one of either gender - then polygamy would also be ideal. Neither is it about producing the most number of children possible - polygamy would again be an ideal relationship for that goal. 

Marriage is about maintaining a healthy replacement-level birthrate and providing a physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy environment for those children to be raised in - in which the two parents chose to conceive the child within that relationship and are committed to raising it within that relationship. It's one man and one woman coming into a relationship together and being committed to the purpose of producing and raising children within that relationship. This is the ideal situation for children to be raised in.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A New Approach to Teaching History

The assumptions we make about the nature of history naturally lead to our beliefs in how history should be taught. If we think that history is nothing but dates, names, and places, then we will teach students to memorize facts and then locate them on a multiple-choice test. If we think history is much more than this, then integrity demands that we re-think the way we teach history in our schools. In other words - is history static and unchanging, or is it a more dynamic subject that demands the use of critical thinking skills?

Five Myths of Teaching History

The following are five "myths" that are perpetuated in our schools and communities. They often come in the form of reactionary complaints from educators, parents, and policy makers about how we should be teaching history in our classrooms. (Notice that I don't include students in that list. I've never heard students complain that they don't get enough multiple-choice tests, worksheets, or lectures!). 

The "truths" that debunk these myths are a composite of things I have learned about the teaching of history from my own personal teaching experience, from instructional methods based on educational research, as well as from my personal ideals and vision for the teaching of history in our schools.

Myth #1: History happened chronologically, therefore we need to teach it that way.

Truth: Yes, historical events happened chronologically, but that's not how history was created or written. History is not linear. We cannot truly place all human events onto one large timeline. Some events happen simultaneously whether related or not.  

There are two kinds of history: History 1 which is the actual event itself and History 2 which is our interpretation of an event. When we think of history, we usually think of History 1. History 2 is often called historiography or the study of history. We need to teach both kinds of history in our history classes. Otherwise, it would be like teaching a science class without teaching the scientific method. We can teach the periodic table and all the planets and the parts of a cell, but it does not mean as much to the students unless we also teach them how we know what we know. They need to understand that science (or any knowledge for that matter) is not given to us on a silver platter or in a petri dish. It was discovered by individuals - people like you and me - who were willing to ask questions, often really hard questions. Historiography is an integral part of any successful history class. 

The second part of this truth is that it is OK to teach history thematically instead of chronologically (more on this below). We don't need to adhere to a strict chronological sequence when teaching history. History may happen in chronological order, but it is not created in chronological order. History is created as individuals examine and interpret primary sources - newspapers, speeches, letters, laws, photographs and maps. Students must learn to do the same by learning to interpret primary and secondary sources.

Myth #2: But, like the physical sciences and math, history is not subject to interpretation. We can't change history because we can't change facts.

Truth: History is created in the context of contemporary events and as a result of current events, as well as the interpretation of both of these sets of events. In other words, we can return to a historical event and re-write it based on our understanding of current events and new information about past events. Events do not happen in a vacuum. There are other events that happen before, after, and during any one historical event that influence how people approach that event. Again, think of History 1 and History 2. For example, the history of the Vietnam War has been written and re-written based on new information about past events and in light of current events, such as the fall of the Soviet Union, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Arab Spring. Yet, the basic facts - dates, names, and places, have not changed. What has changed is the meaning these facts holds for us. 

Myth 3: We just need to teach kids "the answers" to history and have them memorize them. We shouldn't waste time talking about interpretations and opinions; kids just need to know the facts!

Truth: This myth first assumes that the facts are the "answers" to history. The "answers" in our history classes keep changing, because history keeps changing. Aside from dates, names, and places, there are no correct answers in history. It is not like math in which there may be several ways to get to the one right answer; history is more like English in this regard. Learning about history is learning about humanity - ourselves - and certain human values and principles. History should teach us how to act and how to think. This is the ultimate value of studying history - the untapped potential to teach valuable life lessons to our rising generation. 

Myth #4: History can't be "done" by children and teenagers. They just need to focus on learning it; they aren't yet at that cognitive level that they can use their higher order thinking skills to properly analyze and then write history. 

Truth: Teenagers never cease to surprise me. They use the principles of historiography on a daily basis - they just don't recognize it. They tell stories all the time. They are social creatures. They can recognize (and need to be able to recognize) that other people have different perspectives about the same event. We need to hone and refine those in-born skills that they already have and already use. We need our younger generations to be more involved in writing their own history, rather than having it handed to them in pre-packaged form. The making of history should not be left solely to university professors and academics, and especially not to politicians! 

Myth 5: We need to teach kids that there is a right and wrong side of history. We need to teach them to be on the 'right side' of history by promoting a progressive agenda and view the progress of society as inevitable.

Truth: There is no 'right' or 'wrong' side of history. Such assertions are not logically sound if one accepts a dynamic view of history. But there is a right and wrong side of morality – which can be defined as that which is helpful over that which is hurtful. Morality is not always subject to interpretation, but history is. What is moral is often incorrectly labeled as the "wrong side" and vice versa with the right side of history. Political correctness, as a rule, has no place in a history classroom. What may be politically correct today may not have been 100 years ago. Historians must be honest enough to recognize that fact without necessarily agreeing with it. 

I am not a revisionist. I'm not one of those people who take advantage of the broad nature of history in order to promote a political agenda or ideology by ignoring a specific set of facts. But, I do believe that each generation, each society, each individual must create their own history; in this sense, I am a devout revisionist. We all have the right to create our own history. We cannot change or ignore the facts, but we can choose how we view those facts and what they mean for us. In other words, we cannot change History 1, but we can change History 2. Our history is our identity, and surely we have the right to create our own identity and not to be given our identity by others.  

How Do We "Do" History?

So, if we do not subscribe to these myths of viewing history as static, then we must re-think the way we teach history in schools. We need to get our students to DO history, not just learn it. And if we feel we may be teaching history wrong, we should also take the time to ask, "Am I just teaching the wrong history?"

"You're not one of those teachers that gives worksheets, are you?"

Let's be honest; we've all had a teacher (or been that teacher) that gives worksheets. Worksheets are OK. They may be necessary now and then. But it is important to know how to use worksheets effectively. They must be used only if they work to achieve the class objectives. Rarely will a worksheet align with a teacher's objectives, because the teacher often does not create their own worksheets - someone else did. Students must understand and create their own history, not someone else's. 

I propose a new curriculum that is based on a dynamic view of history. This approach is standards-based, and uses global, course, unit, and daily objectives, and is built on essential questions, inquiry-based lessons, performance assessments, and primary sources. 

Elements of a Dynamic Approach to Teaching History

Standards – A dynamic approach uses specific standards and objectives that define what the students will be able to know and do at the end of each lesson, unit, and course. If something does not help students reach these objectives, teachers should seriously re-consider their use of it. 

Essential questions – Lessons are built around questions that provoke thought and encourage the application of the content to real-life scenarios and contexts. Good essential questions personalize historical principles and life lessons.

Inquiry-based models - History is a subject that is perfect for allowing students to create their own knowledge, rather than relying entirely on the teacher. Students ask the questions, examine primary and secondary sources, conduct research, and make conclusions based on supporting evidence. 

Performance Assessments – Students need a way to prove to the teacher that they know the content and that they can DO history, and not just be able to regurgitate facts on a test. It doesn't need to be multiple-choice questions. MC is often the worst way to assess a student’s knowledge and understanding of history. Essays, research projects, portfolios, book reports, and people reports are some of the many effective ways of assessing a student's knowledge of historical principles.

Reading and writing skills - These are the bread and butter of history and the humanities in general. History is best learned when it is read AND written, and then subsequently re-created or discussed openly. 

Primary documents/sources
The clincher: There is no textbook! Textbooks are easily outdated and often contain subtle biases that only confuse students. It can be expensive for a school to buy one for each student. Sharing them makes them wear faster and forces the teacher to keep the books in the classroom. Textbooks are not viewed as the objective and infallible source of historical knowledge. A dynamic approach uses a series of primary and secondary sources that are reliable, timeless, and re-producible (unlike textbooks). Primary sources can be collected into a set or book for each student and they can be available online. Primary documents do not need to be updated on a regular basis as do textbooks. They allow students to study history the way it was meant to be – unfiltered! New primary sources can be added as the curriculum evolves and new events occur. We don’t do history by looking through a book until we find the ‘right’ answers. The answers are inside of us and all around us. 

Examples of primary and secondary sources include letters, journals, newspapers, books, photos, maps, quantified data, speeches, artifacts, tours, museum visits, guest speakers, etc. 

Each unit of the course is connected to current events in the world, the nation, and the community. This allows students to connect historical principles to real life situations by creating tomorrow's history today. This is best done when using a thematic sequence instead of a chronological one. 

Thematic approach - This is one viable alternative to teaching chronological history. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages that need to be weighed. A thematic approach includes big, overarching themes (several weeks) and sub-themes (few days or a week) instead of units and chapters. It allows students to see the patterns and principles of history in more contained chunks, and then use those principles to make connections to current events and real-world scenarios. 

Claiming that history is better taught thematically does not mean that all subjects need to be taught this way. It is only a new way, the best way so far. Some students may still learn history better another way. These are only generalities in how to teach history. They are not hard do’s and don’ts. Teachers still have (and should have) a large degree of discretion in the classroom.

Copyright © 2013 Russell C. Duncan. All rights reserved.