I had a pretty good time in Williamsburg this weekend at the annual meeting of the National Council For History Education. Eight history teachers from the various divisions at my school made the trip. Originally we decided to use the weekend as an opportunity for the department to bond a bit, but with our department chair and another teacher leaving at the end of the year I was skeptical. Surprisingly, this was the best part of the trip. One of the teachers organized a private tour with Ed Chappell who is Director of Architectural Research for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. We spent about 2 hours walking up Duke of Gloucester Street and Ed did a fabulous job of giving us a quick overview of how to interpret the various buildings. That night we had a great dinner and made sure to spend as much of the school’s money as possible (LOL).
As for the conference itself I was disappointed. I listened to Gordon Wood deliver a talk at one of the general sessions, but unfortunately it sounded like something pulled directly out of one of his survey lectures at Brown. I did get a chance to talk with Wood in a small group of about 5 people for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed that immensely. The general session also revealed some interesting demographics, including very few blacks and a large number of older women. As for individual sessions I attended two that involved the use and role of primary sources in the classroom. While I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, at this point in my career I find it difficult to sit through a session where the first fifteen minutes involve the presenter asking the audience why we use documents in the classroom and what we hope to teach our students through their inclusion in the curriculum. I’m sorry, but at this point in my career I find it difficult to sit through that. There were plenty of sessions on pedagogy, but I was also looking for people who were passionate about history. I did meet James Percoco who teaches up in Northern Virginia and is in my mind one of the most innovative teachers around.
My experience this past weekend definitely places the steps the OAH and AHA have taken to address the teaching of history in our schools within a broader perspective. I guess the problem for me is that I tend to approach the teaching of history more from the perspective of someone who practices the historian’s craft rather than from a purely educational perspective – don’t know if that makes any sense.