At first glance, learning in history might be characterized as committing to memory sanctioned stories about the past. Yet a deeper consideration of this process opens up several questions about the specific features that make the generation of shared knowledge about the past possible and meaningful. Some of these questions regard the very object of such learning: What makes specific aspects of the past historically significant? What relations among people, events, and phenomena are especially salient in fostering understanding of the past? Another set of questions regards the affective and cognitive traits and abilities that characterize a successful learner in history. Researchers from different countries have worked at the intersection between history, history education, and educational psychology, and have investigated how experts and novices address historical questions on the basis of sources provided to them, identifying certain differences in their strategy use, their ability to contextualize information gleaned from the sources, their use of prior knowledge, and their ideas about the nature of historical knowledge and historical evidence. Researchers have also studied the influence that learners’ epistemic beliefs, school curricula, pedagogical practices, testing, and classroom discourse may have on student learning in history. By their variety, these studies have illustrated the complex nature of learning in history and evidenced several tensions among educational goals and between these goals and educational practices in the 21st century.
Liliana Maggioni and Emily Fox
Harald Thuen and Nina Volckmar
Comprehensive schooling has been a cornerstone in the development of the Norwegian welfare state since World War II. Over the years it has been extended, initially from 7 to 9 years and later to 10-year compulsory schooling, since the late 1990s including virtually all Norwegian children between the ages of 6 and 16. In education policy, the interests of the community versus the individual have played a key role, reflected in a line of conflict between the political left and right. During the first three to four decades after the war, through the Labor Party, the left wing was in power and developed education policy according to a social-democratic model. The ideal of equality and community in schools had precedence. The vision was to create a school for all that had a socially and culturally unifying effect on the nation and its people. Social background, gender, and geographical location should no longer create barriers between pupils. Ideally, school was to be understood as a “miniature democracy,” where pupils would be trained in solidarity and cooperation. Compulsory schooling was thus regarded as an instrument for social integration and for evening out social inequalities. But one challenge remained: How could a common school for all best take care of the individual needs of each pupil? The principle of individualized teaching within the framework of a common school was incorporated in the education policy of social democracy and was subjected to experimentation and research from an early stage. But with the political shift to the right toward the 2000s, a sharper polarization can be observed between the interests of the community versus the interests of the individual. The political right profiles education policy in opposition to the left-wing emphasis on the social purpose of the school system. In the early 21st century, the interests of knowledge, the classroom as a learning arena, and the performance of each pupil take precedence. Based on the model of New Public Management, a new organizational culture is taking shape in the school system. Where the political left formed its policy from the perspective of “equality” during the first postwar decades, the right is now forming it from the perspective of “freedom.” And this is taking place without significant opposition from the left. The terms “equality” and “equity” provide the framework for the analysis of the changing polarity between collective and individual considerations and between pupils’ freedom and social solidarity in postwar education.
Propaganda and public pedagogy are rarely juxtaposed in education research contexts. However, the two terms are closely related and require joint consideration for the broader future of critical education research. The terms describe state-based educational processes conducted on a mass scale and are in fact describing “the same thing” to a large degree. Both are forms of mass rhetoric that were swiftly tempered to industrial strength in the early 20th century during World War I. Since then, propaganda has come to be treated as a cultural derogatory, an inherently oppressive force, while public pedagogy has come to be framed as an unmitigated force for good. However, both are nationalist projects that involve the school in both positive and negative ways. Ultimately, this contribution is about methods, methodology, and axiology (the logic of values). By juxtaposing propaganda and public pedagogy as historically isomorphic terms, and framing both as state-based rhetorics designed to propagate specific habits, actions, attitudes, and understandings en masse, it becomes evident that if public pedagogy is to become an applied research agenda it requires applied methods and methodologies, along with conscious and positive normative theses in respect of purpose. The methods and methodologies, and in many important cases the axiologies developed by the propagandists, provide a rich source for assessment and potential application in the field of public pedagogical research. At some level that suggests a Faustian bargain: surely, the immensely negative connotations of the term “propaganda” preclude the application of its methods and values in the practice of public pedagogic research. Yet if public pedagogy is something that educators aspire to do rather than merely analyze or seek to understand, then the methods of the propagandists are, if nothing else, the most obvious starting point.
Sarah M. Stitzlein
Public schools are intricately connected to the stability and vitality of our democracy in the United States. The important relationship between public schooling and democracy began as a foundational idea in our fledgling republic, and it grew slowly over the course of our country’s history. Along the way, the relationship has been tested and challenged, encountering significant problems and limitations over time, including some that continue today. Despite these struggles and the many ways in which we’ve failed to fully fulfill the relationship, it has become a key one for maintaining the strength of our society and our political system. Unlike a monarchy and other forms of government, it is difficult to maintain a democracy. Democracies take work; they rely upon the ongoing effort of elected officials and citizens, because they cannot run themselves or rely on just one person to lead. While democracy may be a highly desirable political system, its benefits are not always self-evident to children, and the pursuant skills and work it requires do not come naturally to most people. This is the rather precarious position of democracy; in order to maintain it, we have to educate children about its benefits and rationale while also equipping them with the skills and dispositions they need in order to for them to perpetuate it well. This is why we must link education and democracy. Democracy requires informed and active voters who seek information to make wise decisions on behalf of themselves and the common good. Such voters must understand their own rights and freedoms, as well as those of others, as they deliberate together to reach mutually agreeable policies and practices. They must be equipped to engage in free and critical inquiry about the world and the problems surrounding them. And, they need the imagination and creativity to construct, revise, add to, and share the story of democracy with others, including the next generation. The relationship between public schooling and democracy is best understood and fulfilled when it is not just a unidirectional one, where public schools support democracy, but rather when it moves in both directions, with the formal and cultural elements of democracy shaping the governance, content, and practices of schools. In this way, democracy is not just the end of public schooling, but also the means by which we achieve it.
In 1954, Hannah Arendt wrote that talk of a crisis in education “has become a political problem of the first magnitude.” If one trusts the steady stream of books, articles, jeremiads, and statements from public officials lamenting the fallen status of our schools and calling for bold reforms, the 21st century has shown no abatement in crisis as an abiding theme in education discourse. But why does education occupy such a privileged space of attention and why is it so susceptible to the axiomatic evocation of “crisis?” Arendt provides a clue when she argues that “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token, save it from the ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.” The crisis in education has come to signal a variety of issues for which the teacher is either a direct or indirect participant: declining student performance, inadequacy of teacher preparation, inequities of opportunity as well as outcome, or a curriculum ill-fitted to the shape of the modern world. However, at base is the issue of social reproduction that Arendt sees at the heart of education. Thus, the crisis in education serves as a forum for expressing, critiquing, and instantiating the values that are at play when considering “the coming of the new and the young.”