Beyond Fake News: Putting Historical Thinking Skills to Use
Posted: 4/9/2018

Written by Dr. Kyle Hughes

What memories do you have of your high school history classes? For many of us, we recall having to memorize a parade of names and dates, without really grasping how these isolated pieces of information connected to one another or why they mattered for life in the real world.

Step into a history classroom at Whitefield Academy, however, and you’ll find something quite different: an increasing emphasis, throughout the Middle and Upper School curriculum, on what we call historical thinking skills.

Information Overload

This emphasis on historical thinking skills reflects the intellectual and cultural milieu of our time. On the one hand, students today have unprecedented access to the “trivia” of history through the internet; on the other hand, more than ever, students need to be able to sort through all of the information at their disposal, make sense of it, and evaluate what is credible or significant. In this age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it is all the more important that our students know how to think, and this is where historical thinking skills come in to play.

All of our history classes now seek to engage historical content with an eye toward developing the following four core historical thinking skills: 
  • Identification - students’ ability to define and describe the significance of key people, events, ideas, or terms. Shifting to focus on historical thinking skills in no way implies that students don’t need to learn “the basics” of history!
  • Analysis - students’ ability to read and interpret primary sources. Examining these sources for the author’s point of view or bias is a key aspect of our training in this area.
  • Synthesis - students’ ability to utilize sound historical reasoning to advance a sophisticated historical argument. Writing is such a central component to the job of a historian that I take it as the greatest compliment when a student says my class is a lot like an English class!
  • Communication - students’ ability to communicate their understanding of history through a variety of methods. Thus, different teachers may employ formal speeches, class discussions, or group multimedia presentations to develop this skill.

History and Faith

Finally, as a Christ-centered school, we have a unique opportunity to challenge our students to go beyond these historical thinking skills to also consider how their study of history informs their Christian faith. Historical events and characters provide endless opportunities for conversations about values, meaning, and purpose.

While I recognize that most of our students will probably not go on to be professional historians, it is my sincere belief that our graduates will be able to take these skills with them into whatever line of study and work the Lord has prepared for them!