Sam Wineburg

Oct 21, 2021

Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone)

University of Chicago Press 2018

We are surrounded by more readily available information than ever before. And a huge percentage of it is inaccurate. Some of the bad info is well-meaning but ignorant. Some of it is deliberately deceptive. All of it is pernicious.

With the internet always at our fingertips, what’s a teacher of history to do? In Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) (U Chicago Press, 2018), Sam Wineburg offers answers, beginning with this: We definitely can’t stick to the same old read-the-chapter-answer-the-questions-at-the-back snoozefest we’ve subjected students to for decades!

If we want to educate citizens who can sift through the mass of information around them and separate fact from fake, we must explicitly work to give them the necessary critical thinking tools. Historical thinking has nothing to do with test prep–style ability to memorize facts. Instead, it’s an orientation to the world that we can cultivate, one that encourages reasoned skepticism, discourages haste, and counters our tendency to confirm our biases. Wineburg draws on surprising discoveries from an array of research and experiments to paint a picture of a dangerously mine-filled landscape, but one that, with care, attention, and awareness, we can all learn to navigate.

It’s easy to look around at the public consequences of historical ignorance and despair. Wineburg is here to tell us it doesn’t have to be that way.

The future of the past may rest on our screens. But its fate rests in our hands.

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at reneeg@vanleer.org.il

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Renee Garfinkel

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at reneeg@vanleer.org.il

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