Thursday, July 16, 2020

On Learning History

I made a little history quiz, just for fun, for people to see how much they know about Canada's history of horrific treatment of Indigenous Peoples as well as our history of slavery and internment camps. I mixed in facts about America at many points just to give people context. Because of our media, we know American history so much better than our own. I had the preamble of the American Constitution memorized in about grade 2 because of those fun Schoolhouse Rocks people. I added even more exciting details in the answers to my quiz, but my kids say it's too boring to finish all twenty questions. It's just way too many words!

History has to be a fun little jingles or famous people have to reenact a drunk guy explaining a story. But that's so much more work that just listing events and explaining an event that people have to read. It feels like reading is just for the elderly who don't understand TikToks. GenZ is all about the future and only old people care about the past, which is why usually one or two students each year come up with some sweeping solutions to global problems like getting rid of money will somehow create world peace. The past shows us all the problems we might have with that idea, but it's more fun to just jump into the idea blind to all that older generation negativity.

If we want to stop the abusive treatment of groups of people in our country, maybe I'm wrong on this, but I really think we need to understand all the background to it. At the very least, we have to acknowledge that Canada was into slavery just as much as the U.S.;we just stopped doing that one thing a few decades earlier, so we look awesome by comparison.

But taking a history quiz will never be as fun as taking a math quiz with tricky diagrams, like this. You want to figure this out immediately, right?! I know I do.

These types of tests are pounced on by many who don't necessarily even like math. You win if you notice little things, like that the number on the calculator changed in the last line (adds to 9 instead of 10) and that there are 4 tics instead of 5 on each bulb, and figure out that each tic is worth 3, and remember your BEDMAS rules to get the answer: 9 + 9 x 36 = 333.

They're not a measure of intelligence, though, but of the ability to notice really little changes. The ability to match accurately is more vital to finding the solution than the ability to do complex mathematics. And they're fun because anyone can do them if they're careful. It takes very little prior knowledge, so we all want to play! And if you lose, it's because you were duped by some detail that's so clear once it's pointed out. The big take home message is that you should look more carefully next time. They fill my social media feed followed by hundred of comments, and I'd do them all day long because I love a puzzle. It's the same reason I'm addicted to Sudokus.

We know, at the get go, that it's possible to get the right answer with little effort. There's a certainty to it. It's fast because I can figure it out in a few minutes or move on. History demands knowing stories that go back and back forever. It's a huge chain of events that has no beginning or end, and, more than that, there's a matter of interpretation getting in the way of truth in a way that can be frustrating or even dangerous. I wrestled at length with several of the questions and wording and what to include and exclude, because it can all point to my own flawed settler indoctrination. It's like a few of those Heritage Minutes that are just a little tone deaf.

And if you don't get one piece of history in context, it's harder to toss it aside and try a different piece because it's all so interrelated. It's an unfathomable web of interactions to try to grasp, and that's a lot of work, and working hard with little immediate reinforcement is boring. I tried to make the quiz provide immediate answers after each question, but Google Forms won't let that happen, so you have to wait for the very end, which is way too long to be compensated for your efforts. So how do we get this knowledge out there to people?

There's some deductive reasoning going on in puzzles, for sure, but we generally don't glorify people who can do them quickly. We are impressed with people who can innovate and think through and solve some real world problems, which involves deductive reasoning but also a whole lot of background knowledge that is necessary to even begin to do some critical thinking about an issue.

We're at a weird point in education in which content is seen as superfluous. I'm old school, so I still shovel in the content and make kid work at remembering things, but I've been told a few times by educators in the loop that history should be entirely about critical thinking, so ditch the content tests. But, I counter, how do we have critical thoughts about current events without an understanding of where we came from?? People have figured things out before and made lots of mistakes, so it's useful to know about that before developing our own, better, ideas. Right?!?  

Little reasoning quizzes make us feel smart; really "clever" is a better word for it, but we haven't really demonstrated anything useful to society. And I'm afraid too many of us won't do the hard work of getting beyond clever in order to actually change this troubling system if people like me can't find a more interesting way to teach it within the scope of our abilities and limited access to film stars and musicians!

ETA: After @ddupreejr posted a thread about how much American presidents suck, I realized I could just post Canadian history on Twitter and people might actually read it!  And after many people argued that it all proves that Canada is so much better than the States, I posted all about our racist past and present. Here's part 1 and part 2. Here it is in a google doc for easier copying and the chart I've been using to track everything I know and have continued to learn.

ETA - Almost 7,000 clicked on that twitter thread!! Most my tweets get between 2 and 36 hits, so this is nuts!!


Lucky P said...

I love this and your brilliant quiz. Well done...

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Lucky P.!