Historians and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Paper presented at the American Association for Higher Education 2000 National Conference on Higher Education, 29-31 March 2000, Anaheim, CA
Lendol Calder, Augustana College
William Cutler, Temple University
T. Mills Kelly, Texas Tech University
David Pace, Indiana University
Presenter: Lendol Calder
It was very kind of Sherry Morreale to invite historians to be a part of this conversation. Frankly, it is also a little surprising. If we are talking about disciplinary styles in the scholarship of teaching and learning, I suspect that historians are not to be counted among the Best Dressed. If we historians have a disciplinary style for the way we examine teaching and learning, its not Versace or Vera Wang. Our style looks more like the sale rack at K-Mart. But even this may be too generous. I wonder whether the metaphor of disciplinary styles can even be applied to historians, seeing as how, when it comes to the scholarship of teaching and learning, we are for the most part seasoned nudists. Not the happy, live-and-let-live kind of nudists, either; but the cranky, ideological kind, the kind who really dont believe in wearing clothes. Especially if they are the scratchy, ill-fitting clothes made in the sweat shops of educationists.
This paper will address three questions. What is the state of STL in academic history today? What does STL look like when historians do it? And what future contributions might historians make to STL? The paper is based on observations and preliminary research made by four academic historians who are Fellows this year at the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: William Cutler (Temple University), Mills Kelly (Texas Tech University), David Pace (Indiana University), and myselfLendol Calder (Augustana College).
The State of STL in Academic History Today
In the paper that led off this session, Mary Huber examines college and university professors and diagnoses a peculiar sort of schizophrenia: while faculty members generally care a great deal about their teaching and their students, a cognitive disconnect prevents most of them from acting on this emotion to investigate, reflect upon, and make public what goes on inside their classrooms. If anyone wants to challenge this claim, they will find historians to be no help at all. In fact, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that if Clio were brought before a jury and accused of fomenting the scholarship of teaching and learning, the evidence would be insufficient for a conviction. In history there are no associations for the promotion of critical discourse about teaching and learning. Nor are there annual conferences or workshops for this purpose. At our most prestigious graduate schools, the scholarship of teaching and learning has little or no bearing on the training of future historians.
But against this general background of disinterest, encouraging signs can be noted. One of these is that both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians are committed to introducing their members to the idea that teaching and learning ought to be matters of the highest scholarly concern for us. Recent meetings of the AHA and OAH have featured an increasing number of sessions given over to teaching-related issues, and the good attendance at these sessions is encouraging. The support STL receives from our leading professional organizations is invaluable and will provide a principal platform for future work in this area.
It is also true that history is served by two journals devoted to college and university teaching: The History Teacher (published quarterly since 1969) and Teaching History: A Journal of Methods (biannual since 1975). Both journals have the highest intentions and are edited to exacting standards. Nevertheless, the contents of both journals point to the weaknesses of STL in our profession, not to its strength. David Pace has examined the last twelve issues of the larger and better known of the journals, The History Teacher, going back to May, 1996. Of the twenty-six articles that appeared in the section titled the "Craft of Teaching," nineteen contained either no footnotes or merely footnotes to standard historical sources. Only nine of the articles referred to anything that resembled STL research. Of these references, most were of the "how to" type: either how to teach a specific subject matter (e.g., the Holocaust), or how to use a specific approach to teaching (e.g., the world wide web). Only two or three articles (including one by Deborah Vess) made references to theoretically sophisticated works of scholarship probing the relation between teaching and learning. Thus, we find that the conversation in these journals and at professional meetings has been confined largely to the subject of teaching, with little inquiry into learning, and rarely searches for evidence beyond the anecdotal. There seems to be little reason to believe that historians are building extended dialogues through cross references, or are developing an area of research where one scholars contribution critiques and/or builds upon the work of others.
Historians as a group have never shown much interest in taking responsibility for investigating what really is happening inside their classrooms. Historically, we have tended to draw a clear and sharp distinction between scholarship and teaching, believing that the former calls for our best methods, efforts, and review, while the latter calls for what is left over when one is finished with "ones own work." And here is a curious thing about history: the standards and expectations for what constitutes verified knowledge are very much lower in the classroom than they are in our traditional scholarship of discovery. In print or when talking to one another, historians follow a loose but discernible method of inquiry and argumentation. But in the lecture-driven classroom, we are perfectly willing to say things we would never get away with in writing or at a professional meeting. What other discipline guards its methods so secretively, or hides its epistemology so well from all but its most advanced seminar students? The fact that the rules of evidence are not the same for classroom and archives constitutes an additional barrier to getting historians to take STL seriously. Truth be told, most historians would be embarrassed for others to read the outlandish things we are prone to say to our students, which is why we find it hard to imagine a scholarly inquiry into classroom practices. But on the other hand, this also means that if and when STL gains acceptance in our profession, the impact on classroom instruction will be dramatically salutary as historians begin to question why it is we that ask our students to pay attention to what we say to them in a lecture, not to what we do as historians.
What STL by Historians Looks Like
All that has been said thus far applies only to historians in general. What about those lonely voices crying in the wilderness all these years, urging the rest of us to be more curious about issues related to teaching and learning? One of these voices is Samuel Wineburgs, and his article on "History Teaching" in The International Encyclopedic Dictionary of Education lists a bibliography with thirty-three titles that are relevant to higher education. Thirty-three articles and books are a pretty thin harvest for a profession that has been around for over a century, but these articles and books are good seed corn for our efforts to grow STL in the future.
Wineburgs bibliography rightly ignores the "wisdom of practice" literature, the one kind of classroom inquiry that is familiar to most historians. No one denies the value of practical ideas for classroom instruction based on teachers personal experiences; surely everyones courses are the richer for it. But the "tips n quips" genre runs up against its own natural limits. To begin with, such articles focus exclusively on the teaching side of the classroom ecology, leaving hard questions about learning unasked and unaddressed. Secondly, In terms of degree of difficulty and sophistication of performance, academic versions of show and tell compare unfavorably with the traditional forms of scholarship historians are used to evaluating. Is it any wonder that most historians look askance at the notion of a scholarship of teaching and learning when the articles they have seen on teaching lack a developed apparatus of footnotes, or plausible evidence for teaching effectiveness? Even the sheer brevity of most articles from the wisdom of practice genre mark this kind of reporting as substandard compared to the traditional scholarship of discovery. It simply lacks the normal indicators of a convincing historical argument.
There are two striking exceptions to all this that go well beyond the wisdom of practice. One is a line of inquiry that links wisdom of practice studies together in an effort to uncover what exceptional history teachers share in common. This scholarly project has even reached a stage of tentative consensus: while there is no one method that defines exemplary history teachers, all good history teachers seem to present history less as a catalog of facts than as a cognitive domain. The other bright spot in historians STL is a body of work that attempts to define what it means to "think historically." Some of this research has recently been brought together and published by the American Historical Association. What remains is for this kind of scholarship to find an audience.
What Historians Might Do in STL
When historians get more serious about STL, what will their products look like? This is difficult to say, because history is a discipline that spans the divide between the humanities and the social sciences. Because "historical method" varies from historian to historian, depending on whether they believe that data or poetry gets closer to the sense of things, it is unlikely there will ever be one way historians do STL. But all historians share at least this much in common: they understand their scholarship to be an evidentiary quest for narratives that explain change and continuity over time. Moreover, most historians work on a courtroom model of evidence, imagining themselves to be sophisticated judges capable of sifting lots of different kinds of evidence.
Thus, scholars interested in STL projects face the following challenge. On the one hand, in order to satisfy historians standards for what constitutes convincing knowledge claims, they will need to make their work theoretically sophisticated, grounded in a range of different kinds of evidence, and reported in a format that depends on narrative explanation. The problem lies in the first and second of these criteria. Most historians, when presented with scholarship based on no theory or naive theory, with no evidence or with only anecdotal evidence, will continue to turn up their noses at STL and refuse to be impressed. On the other hand, if there is too much theoretical jargon or too much scientific methodology (e.g., control groups, etc.), they will neither read this scholarship nor get interested in doing it themselves. In the past historians have shown themselves to be adaptable to new methodologies, such as quantitative modeling taken from sociology and economics, or ethnological inquiry from anthropology. If we are going to ask historians to learn a thing or two from educational psychology, too, we cant afford to tax their abilities and patience, at least not at first, by forcing them to learn a new language of evidence or even a new craft language specific to STL. Thus, STL in history, for the time being, should be systematic, without attempting to be cultic, much less "scientific." For an excellent example of how scholarship can be "translated" from the norms of educational psychology to types of argument more familiar to historians, one might consider how Samuel Wineburg reports the results of his doctoral dissertation in The Journal of Educational Psychology and then in the American Historical Associations Perspectives newsletter.
This points to the first contribution historians might offer to the emergent scholarship of teaching and learning. Patricia Cross has suggested that we may be reaching the limits of what quantitative analysis can do for the toughest pedagogical questions we confront in STL. Historians, though, are accustomed to the kinds of "fuzzy logic" that we need if we want to inquire into human situations so complex as what goes on in a college classroom. STL done by historians will be rich with systematically constructed stories that pair anecdote with systematic evidence while also recognizing the lingering problem of loose ends. Historians may even succeed in bringing what the poet John Keats called "negative capability" to our study of teaching and learning; that is, "being capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." To gain an audience, STL will need to inspire as well as persuade, and this is a job for the finely crafted narratives that are the daily work of historians.
A second contribution we should not overlook is scholarship that provides historical perspectives on teaching and learning itself. How could STL not profit from historical studies of the issues we are concerned with? This would not have to be limited to the institutional questions traditionally considered in the history of education, but could be broadened to consider the very wide range of issues that effect teachers and students, such as the campus cultural climates examined by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz in her history of college students, or attitudes about the usefulness of poetry in education as examined by Joan Shelley Rubin. Another example of the helpfulness of a historical perspective is Larry Cubans recent book studying how the research imperative came to dominate academic work at Stanford University, so that repeated attempts there to elevate the status of teaching have failed time and time again. Few of the reformers at Stanford seem to have had any knowledge of the earlier attempts at reform or of the reasons why they failed to make an impact. If we wish for more success with our efforts, surely a consciousness of the historical could help make a difference.
History has lagged behind other disciplines in showing an interest in matters related to teaching and learning. The reasons for this are interesting and complex, and have only been hinted at here. But we are cautiously optimistic for the future. Mary Huber suggests that scholars will become interested in STL when they begin asking the questions STL addresses. This is true and we already see it happening, but it is also possible that scholars will come to STL by asking the wrong or at least a different set of questions. My own case is instructive. When I began teaching, like many newly minted PhDs I found myself thrust into an alien classroom environment for which I was totally unprepared. In my first jobs I was being asked to teach a four course load to students who were refugees from learning and bringing a wide variety of cognitive styles and abilities to my classes. I turned to STL not because I wanted to know "how can I be more effective in teaching my students?" but because I wanted to know "how can I do something besides lecture because writing lectures for this many classes and for these kinds of students is going to kill me?" I suspect other young teachers can share similar stories. Perhaps for this reason, I agree with something Mills Kelly is fond of repeating: "If we build it, they will come." For the right reasons or no.
1. The International Encyclopedic Dictionary of Education (London: Routledge, forthcoming), s.v. "History Teaching," by Richard J. Paxton and Samuel S. Wineburg; Samuel S. Wineburg and Suzanne M. Wilson, "Models of Wisdom in the Teaching of History," Phi Delta Kappan (September 1988):50-58.
2. Samuel S. Wineburg and Suzanne M. Wilson, "Models of Wisdom in the Teaching of History," Phi Delta Kappan (September 1988):50-58; The International Encyclopedic Dictionary of Education (London: Routledge, forthcoming), s.v. "History Teaching," by Richard J. Paxton and Samuel S. Wineburg.
3. Perspectives on Teaching Innovations: Teaching to Think Historically. Introduction by Robert Blackey (Washington, DC: The American Historical Association, 1999).
4. Samuel Wineburg, "Historical Problem Solving: A Study of the Cognitive Processes Used in the Evaluation of Documentary and Pictorial Evidence," Journal of Educational Psychology 83:1 (1991):73-87; Samuel Wineburg, "Probing the Depths of Historical Knowledge," Perspectives 30 (March 1992).
5. K. Patricia Cross, "What Do We Know About Students Learning and How Do We Know It," paper presented at the AAHE National Conference on Higher Education, (Atlanta, GA 24 March 1998), p. 3.
6. Quoted in Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (NY: Riverhead Books, 1996), p. 53.
7. Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Joan Shelley Rubin, "Listen, My Children: Modes and Functions of Poetry Reading in American Schools, 1880-1950," in Moral Problems in American Life: New Perspectives on Cultural History, ed. Karen Halttunen and Lewis Perry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), pp. 261-281.
8. Larry Cuban, How Scholars Trumped Teachers: Change Without Reform in University Curriculum, Teaching, and Research, 1890