Page 29 - Menlo Magazine Summer 2019
P. 29

 History Department Revitalizes Curriculum to Emphasize Critical Thinking, Empathy, and Student Choice
 f you took a history class in high school or middle school a generation ago, the curriculum may have
included reading from a specific textbook that neatly ordered events of the past chronologically
by chapter. You may have memorized some key dates, events, and people from that text and then wrapped up each unit with a test on the material covered. You were likely never challenged to question what you read or the source of the information or to examine an event from multiple points of view.
to and curiosity about other people, cultures, and perspectives and ultimately empower Menlo students to become critical, active participants in their communities, nation, and world.
The Upper School History Department began implementing extensive changes to its course offerings two years ago. Students in ninth grade now begin their history studies with Modern World History, and then as sophomores, they study either U.S. History or AP U.S.
 But today’s students live in an unprecedented era of information. They have access to vast amounts of sometimes conflicting information and points of view from a variety
of sources about current events as well as those in the past. The study of history at Menlo is evolving
to encourage students to think critically about the information
they encounter and its inherent biases, to help them understand the world’s happenings from different perspectives, and to foster a sense of agency as they find their own voices.
"The 11th and 12th grade years now are very much about electives. They’re very much about students finding their own voice in our history department, finding their own interests, and finding globally oriented courses."
History. Through both of these courses, the curriculum has been shifted “to ensure that there is a broader view of American society and world history represented,”
says History Department Chair Carmen Borbón. “We’re trying to embed the teaching of empathy, understanding for others, and understanding differences and are looking at the perspectives of voices that are not typically heard in the traditional teaching of history, like people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups. And I think that that has had a big impact.”
One of the more interesting things about the study of history is that there is not one unified, agreed-upon version. That is to say, historians rarely agree on the meaning of the past. If everyone had the same view of the past, we would only need one giant textbook to study those events. The fact that historians hold different assumptions, look at different sets of sources, and produce different historical accounts is what makes history so dynamic. Each new generation rewrites history, theoretically striving to come closer and closer to the “truth.” In actuality, all historians reflect the time period in which they live.
In both Menlo’s Upper and Middle School, the history departments have spent time evaluating and revamping the curriculum to promote some of the skills that are essential in a 21st-century education, like critical thinking, cross-cultural competency, empathy, and agency. The faculty hopes these changes will help foster an openness

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