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Sandwell, Ruth. “School History vs. the Historians.” International Journal of Social Education 20(1) (2005): 9-15.


This article is largely the author's reflections on one particular aspect of history and social studies education, reflections that are very much those of an outsider. Nationally, she is not an American, but a Canadian, and professionally has been, until recently, a historian rather than a history educator. And the differences, are profound. This article is not concerned with the differences between American and Canadian history education; those differences deserve more attention than they can receive here. Instead, it focuses on the gulf that presently divides historians and history educators throughout North America. History teachers, in Canada and the United States, differ from each other in many ways, varying in their teaching practices, and their beliefs about what to teach and for what purposes. Yet, as a group they tend to overwhelmingly share a particular belief about what history, in essence, is: History is a story about people, events and trends that constitutes a strong and linear nationalist narrative of progress from the past to the present and future. For most educators, history is the most accurate story. This view stands in noted contrast to the tendency of Euro-American professional historians who, for the last half-century or so, have come to understand history as a process of critical enquiry concerning evidence left over from the past; evidence that historians interpret through complex, varied and contested narratives. Thus, for historians, history is someone’s coherent narrative interpretation of evidence. The process of historical enquiry--the dialogue among people about evidence from the past--is the best way to explore who we were and are, and how we can turn that into who we as a global community want to be.