Questioning History: 16 Essential Questions That Will Deepen Your Understanding of the Past, James O. Thompson, 9781622731053


Since the days of the Ancient Greeks, history has been perceived as the academic study of the past. Unfortunately, it has generally been taught as a litany of rigid, boring facts intended to be accepted rather than questioned. This has been reinforced for decades by weighty textbooks that overwhelm the reader with mind-numbing details presented in a chronological sequence. The end result is that students see little relevance of what they learn in history class to the real world, and many simply struggle to stay awake. Compared to other subjects taught at the secondary level, history is frequently judged to be the most boring. This is largely because it is viewed as an intellectually lifeless subject that presents few opportunities for active engagement. Questioning History is a book built around 16 essential questions designed to challenge this common assumption. Each question is broad, open-ended and subject to vigorous debate. By examining the historical background behind each question and by analyzing the ways in which the question can be answered, the reader will come away with a deeper understanding of the past and a new appreciation for history as a cognitively dynamic subject. In addition, by using each chapter as a platform for engaging discussions and Socratic seminars, the reader will be able to refine the decision-making skills necessary for effective citizenship in a democratic society. Depending on the classroom or the setting in which it is being used, Questioning History can either take the place of the more traditional textbook or at least be used as a supplement to make it come more alive. The best way to learn and to appreciate a subject is through active engagement. Questioning History provides a shot of adrenalin to the study of history. I began my teaching career in an inner city high school in New Orleans, Louisiana. The year was 1979. By my third year, I was named Teacher of the Year, and after earning my Masters Degree in Education from the University of New Orleans, I was given the opportunity to teach a social studies methods course as an adjunct instructor for UNO. This continued until I left New Orleans in 1984 and moved to St. Louis to be closer to my wife’s family. In 1985, I was hired to teach high school history in the Parkway Schools, a district in the city’s western suburbs. I remained with Parkway for the next 27 years. During those years, like most teachers, I stayed incredibly busy. I taught a full spectrum of courses, ranging from American and World History to electives like Crime and Law and the American West. Classes were taught at the regular, honors and AP levels. In addition, I served as department chair, sponsored and coached such activities as the chess team, student council and the mock trial team, and taught additional education classes as an adjunct instructor for Maryville University. The years rolled by as my children grew up and left for college, my hair turned gray and my wife and I celebrated 37 anniversaries. In 2012, I made the decision to retire. My passion for teaching history had not waned in the slightest; I simply wanted to slow down and enjoy the luxury of more time. Shortly after retiring, I landed a position teaching two classes of American history in my district’s Mosaic Academy, a special program designed to meet the needs of exceptionally gifted students. These classes have afforded me the opportunity to try new teaching techniques with my students, and inspired the writing of my first book-Questioning History, as well as my current book- Relearning History.

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