Stephen Lazar has written a perfectly nice article on how to use good questions and inquiry to teach history. But how depressing that something so obvious, so often said over the last 75 years, should be an article in a national educational publication! Is there NO memory in this field? Are we to assume that each new crop of teachers knows nothing about inquiry? Are we doomed to reinventing the wheel in every classroom every generation?

I can think of many dozens of resources that have focused on good questioning in my 40 year career (especially in the social sciences), starting with Bruner and Taba, and including countless articles and books written by Dave Perkins, Richard Paul, Barry Beyer, Art Costa, Jamie McKenzie, Lynn Erickson, and Heidi Jacobs – not to mention the work in inquiry-based history over the past decades such as History Alive and Facing History, Facing Ourselves, all the way back to Edwin Fenton’s research and inquiry-focused materials in the 60s; or my extensive output on framing learning via questions, beginning in the 1980s and through all the Understanding by Design books with Jay McTighe in the past decade in which we highlight Essential Questions.

Let’s face it: education is not a profession. If it were a profession, we could – and should – presume that people are educated in the basics of Best Practice, including (especially) how to deepen the work and engage students via good questions – especially in high school history.

My rant is not a knock on Lazar: the article is perfectly fine: clear, concise, helpful in how to improve US history class. But that the article is deemed newsworthy in 2011 is pretty sad stuff.  Next, we’ll be seeing articles in print about the value of engaging students in hands-on work or research that suggests that students do better when the work is personalized….

PS: can we also PLEASE stop using the phrase 21st century skills? None of this is new and it insults the intelligence of the public to make it sound new. The skills in question – critical and creative thinking, collaboration, use of technology – were 18th 19th and 20th century skills, too.

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