Tuesday, January 30, 2007

History Book Discussion Study Group - Founding Myths

Throughout December teachers from Danvers, Lowell, North Reading, & Reading met for the first official meetings of the History Book Discussion Study Group. Dean Bergeron, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Patricia Fontaine, Associate Professor of Education at UMass Lowell led the groups in a lively discussion of Ray Raphael’s Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past.

In Founding Myths, Raphael uncovers the “truth” about a number of stories from the American Revolution. He argues, for instance, that Patrick Henry never said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” that there was no Molly Pitcher who delivered water to soldiers on the battlefield, and that the American Revolution did not actually begin with “the shot heard round the world” at Lexington in 1775 but in numerous towns and cities throughout Massachusetts where the people forced government officials to surrender political control as early as 1774. Clearly, Raphael’s book provided much fodder for debate and discussion; participants agreed that it was an excellent selection to begin the book discussion series.

Part of the discussion allowed teachers to think about how various topics in the book could be implemented in the classroom. Many teachers noted the importance of teaching historical thinking skills, especially inquiry and analysis, so as to guide students in questioning the sources they are presented with. Teachers also discussed the importance of using primary sources to study history and cited the many documents Raphael used including the numerous “declarations” of independence created prior to the congressional and official “Declaration.” In addition, teachers referred to the famous works of art that Raphael studied, including John Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence and Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, as being useful in guiding students to question visual sources of information. Finally, several teachers spoke of the importance of using reenactments and debates with students.

Participating teachers found that the book group provided a valuable opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss the study of history and historical methods. Teachers were particularly excited to work with other teachers across grade levels to see how history is being taught in elementary, middle and high school classes.