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Social studies teachers as subversives

I stepped back into the office this morning after being on the road for a week and got hit with this question:

What should the new state social studies document look like like?

No coffee. No danish. No prep. Just straight to educational theories.

During the conversation that followed and after I woke up a bit, another question popped up:

How willing should we be to create a standards document that makes teachers very uncomfortable?

(If you’ve been following our state standards saga, you’ll already know that the document is designed to be different than our current set of standards. With a focus on history / social studies “doing” skills rather than content, the still-in-process revision is already stimulating . . . hmm . . . discussion.)

We never really settled the question of whether making teachers uncomfortable is a good or bad idea but it did lead to a little bit of deja vu. I’ve had similar conversations in the past. And more than just a few of them seem to revolve around the writings of Neil Postman. His Teaching as a Subversive Activity in particular.

After some time to reflect, I started a bit of browsing on the Interwebs and ran across some stuff that, if not completely relevant, was at least interesting.

The best thing?

A very recent article by Peter Pappas over at Copy / Paste titled 13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom.

At the end of my recent keynote on the power of reflection at TechitU, I closed by saying something to the effect “… as a teacher you get to reinvent yourselves every year … if you want to change the status quo at school, know that everything is conspiring against you … testing, parent expectations, curriculum mandates, etc … so perhaps you’ll need to be a bit subversive.”

Since I made that “subversive” comment, I’ve been thinking about reflective questions that would challenge the status quo in school.

And that reminded me of a similar discussion that I was a part of several years ago led by tech ed guru Marco Torres. After asking teachers to describe their curriculum, he asked:

If I can Google everything you just said, what value are you adding to the learning that takes place in your classroom?

So . . . finally to today’s topic. What sort of subversive questions should history / social studies teachers be asking as they “think about their approach to instruction?” With a bit of help from Peter, here’s what I got:

What’s the difference between teaching and learning?

Do you ever ask your students questions you don’t know the answers to?

Do athletic coaches (and art teachers, drama teachers, shop teachers) know more about authentic learning than history teachers?

Should we ever ask kids to answer questions that have correct answers?

Should students learn more content information or skills in how to critically evaluate the information that surrounds them?

What would your classroom look like if there were no state social studies standards or state assessments?

Why should every history class be required to have textbooks available? Why should all textbooks be banned from history classes?

What “homework” should we assign?

What foundational knowledge is absolutely essential for social studies / history students to know backwards and forwards?

What place should movies and books like The Hunger Games and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter play in our classrooms?

What subversive questions are you asking?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bill #

    Thanks for the great post. Love your blog. It’s been a huge help to me this summer

    July 25, 2012
  2. Glenn,

    I just read this post and I’m pleased to see you focus the “subversion” on history / social studies. I especially like your question “What would your classroom look like if there were no state social studies standards or state assessments?” Hmm … Would we suddenly go all Montessori if it weren’t for the state tests?

    BTW – I’ve been thinking about subverting the history text into a sourcebook that invited more user reflection. My first volume is complete. “Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion” Download a free preview at iTunes.

    Critiques welcome

    Anyway – keep stirring things up.


    November 17, 2012
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the comments! Of course, it was your thinking to begin with – I just mashed it up a bit to focus some on social studies.

      I actually downloaded your iBook a week or two ago. Using iBooks Author and iTunes U to create / share content is one of the things that ESSDACK is working to figure out and so your book is a really nice example of the kinds of things IBA can do. Would recommend it for any history teacher teaching 20th century US or world.


      November 17, 2012

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