Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Did you hear about the teacher who teaches history BACKWARDS?

The following was spotted on an Internet search on "Backward History"

It's a great idea.

Michael Baker teaches at University of Nebraska

Baker sounds dejected. “I really enjoyed engaging high school students in critical dialogue,” he says. “I found that very satisfying. A lot of kids are in classrooms where they are lectured to. I’d much rather engage in critical thought and problem-solving, and I’ve always had classrooms where we show respect for each other.”

He expects to continue teaching at Southeast Community College and at the University of Nebraska, where he gives a course on the history of American public education.

May 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

SDRAWKCAB YROTSIH GNIHCAET....Via MoJoBlog, The Progressive has a story this week about Michael Baker, a high school teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska, who was let go after showing the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER" to his geography class. Stupid. But that's not what caught my eye. Extremely longtime readers may recall that I once suggested that history could be made more interesting to high school students if it were taught backwards (see here), and it turns out Baker was doing exactly that. His school district didn't think much of that experiment either:

Baker has clashed with administrators before. In 2005, they objected to his innovative approach to teaching history, which was to start at the present and work backwards, an approach he'd been using for four years.

But then, the school district forbade him from teaching that way any longer. The school's consultant said it was "not logical, does not contribute to effective teaching or monitoring of progress, and puts students at a disadvantage" with newly instituted statewide tests, according to a paper on the subject by Professor Nancy Patterson of Bowling Green. Baker appealed but lost, and was eventually "prohibited from teaching U.S. history," Patterson writes.

Hmmph. It still seems like a decent idea to me, though: current events are intrinsically interesting, and learning about them make you genuinely curious about why the world ended up the way it did. If the lessons are structured with curiosity about causes in mind, this will make you interested in the Cold War, which in turn makes you interested in World War II, which in turn makes you interested in the Great Depression, etc. It's a solution to the most obvious problem of teaching history: without any context, why should a 16-year-old care about dusty topics like the Missouri Compromise or the rise of the labor movement?

Oh well. I suppose the amazing thing is that they let him teach this way for four years before they shut him down. He was probably a communist, after all.

—Kevin Drum

Bravo, Kevin Drum and Bravo to the Progressive and Wshington Monthly for covering Mr. Baker's saga.

I agree with K. Drum. The students are lucky that the district took so long to "drum out" this fine teacher.

Michael Baker should be nominated for a "Giraffe" award -- for sticking his neck out.

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