Perhaps you’ve heard that there are three sides to every story: yours, his and the truth that lies somewhere in the middle. Our job as history teachers should be to expose students to opposing perspectives and let them formulate a balanced conclusion based upon the evidence that they analyze.
Exposing students to various perspectives for any given event in history is both good pedagogy and more stimulating for the students. Even seemingly uncontroversial topics can be studied through a different lens. Adding a few techniques and resources to your teaching toolkit will infuse point-of-view into your curriculum.
Point of View Ideas for U.S. History
Following are some examples of controversial perspectives for your United States History curriculum. Some are common and others a bit more controversial.
|13 Colonies||British POV vs. Native American|
|American Revolution||Patriots vs. Loyalists vs. Neutral|
or British vs. Colonists
Were the Patriots terrorists?
|Constitution||Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists|
|President Washington||Great statesman vs. elitist slave owner|
|Manifest Destiny||American vs. Native American|
Should land be privately owned?
|President Jefferson & the Louisiana Purchase||Pragmatic president or a hypocrite? (strict constitutionalist until he wasn’t)|
|Monroe Doctrine||Protectionist or imperialist?|
|Andrew Jackson||Hero of the common man or horrible man?|
|Sectionalism||Divisive problem or necessary to protect states’ rights?|
|Civil War||Lincoln, right or wrong not allowing south to secede?|
Was Lincoln a racist or just a product of his time? Is there a difference?
|Immigration||Is America the land of opportunity?|
|Reconstruction||Radical Republicans vs. Democrats|
|Gilded Age||Capitalism vs. Socialism|
Laissez faire vs. government interference
Private vs. public ownership
|Progressive Movement||Should the press be more carefully monitored for “fake news”? (muckrakers – did Sinclair exaggerate?)|
|World War I||It was necessary vs. it was a mistake for the U.S. to enter|
|Roaring Twenties||Was the Great Depression unavoidable?|
Was the Dust Bowl the farmers’ fault?
|World War II||Would Germany have won without the U.S. joining the Allies?|
Should Allied nations be blamed for the Holocaust?
|Cold War||U.S. vs. Soviet perspectives, who had more valid arguments?|
Would Korea be a united communist country today if the U.S. had not joined?
Is it possible for the U.S. to become a communist country?
|1950’s||Was the conformity of the 50’s a unifying factor for the nation and therefore a good thing?|
|1960’s||Could the civil rights movement have been less divisive? |
Is violence necessary for change?
|1970’s||Looking back, was is a mistake to open trade with China?|
|1980’s||Was Reagan a brilliant president (improving economy, ending Cold War) or just in the right place at the right time?|
|1990’s||Does a president need to be moral in his personal life to be an effective leader? (Clinton)|
|21st Century||Was our response to 9-11 appropriate (Patriot Act, invasion of Afghanistan)?|
Nationalized healthcare, appropriate or not?
Americans prisons – should we set the convicts free?
Climate change – how far should be go to “save the earth”?
Point of View Ideas for Global History
World history is FULL of controversy and perspectives. Some of them can be rather provocative. Here are a few to get you rolling:
|Neolithic Revolution||Was this the start of inequality in the world? |
Hunting and gathering was a low risk way to survive compared to life after the Neolithic Revolution.
|River Valley Civilization||Egypt vs. Mesopotamia vs. China, which was more advanced?|
Was early man more cruel than modern man?
Hammurabi’s Code vs. Law of 12 Tables
|Ancient Greece||Where should females live, Athens or Sparta?|
Was Alexander the Great really great?
|Ancient Rome||Was slavery in ancient Rome moral?|
Republic vs. Empire, which was better?
|Ancient China||Confucius, brilliant philosopher or misogynist?|
|Crusades||Were its effects more positive or negative?|
|Feudalism||Was it the only viable system at the time?|
|Scientific Revolution||Was Galileo a coward?|
|Protestant Reformation||Would it have been possible without the printing press?|
|Renaissance||Could we have another era of learning if we banned TV, video games and social media?|
|Mongols||Brutal warriors or purveyors of culture?|
|Enlightenment||Is human nature naturally selfish, as Hobbes claimed?|
Is democracy the only just form of government?
|Industrial Revolution||Was the Industrial Rev. progress?|
Capitalism vs. Socialism
|Imperialism||Was India better off in the end because of imperialism?|
Do the benefits sometimes outweigh the evils? (case study – Meiji Restoration)
|World War I||Nationalism was the predominant cause of WWI|
|Russian Revolution||Had Lenin lived the world could have seen a great communist nation.|
|World War II||Was Hitler the most evil man in history?|
|Chinese Revolution||Mao Zedong savior or ruin of China?|
|Creation of Israel||Should it have been created?|
|Cold War||Is it a threat to democracy to have too many communist countries?|
|Decolonization||The only successful example of decolonization is the United States|
Many nations fared better under foreign rule than self-rule.
|Terrorism||Terrorist or freedom fighter?|
|Globalization||Is it homogenizing the world? Is that good or bad?|
|Global Warming||Is it real?|
How much sacrifice should we make to mitigate global warming?
A simple quote can also get students thinking, refuting and making conclusions. See if any of these work for you and your students:
“And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” – President Abraham Lincoln
“Direct thought is not an attribute of femininity. In this, woman is now centuries behind man.” Thomas Edison
“I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum.” – President Theodore Roosevelt on eugenics
“In the meantime, since the other person is so near you might study her and see what she does for your husband that you might not be doing. Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him? Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag?” — Dr. Martin Luther King’s advice for a woman whose husband was cheating
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” — Ernest Hemingway, 1946
“[I] like the American soldier individually but do not like the nation as a whole. America entered the war for what money she could get out of it.” -—Frau Frieda Fischer of Lohndorf, Germany, 1919
Do they think that I am such a damned fool as to think myself fit for President of the United States? No, sir; I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be President. — President Andrew Jackson
“If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.” — Nelson Mandela
Methods to Incorporate Perspective
How do you use these in your lesson planning? There are several tried and true methods:
- Organize the class into groups of 4. Two students read one perspective and the others the second. Instruct each group to engage in a debate as to which of the two points of view is more valid and why. end with a whole class share-out.
- Choose several controversial statements that pertain to a unit. Each group studies a different statement. They research evidence to support both sides and create a simple poster. End with a gallery walk of each group’s findings. Have students vote on each topic using one color post-it for “in favor” and a second color for “against”. You can then see at a glance what the class consensus is. (This is a 2-day lesson)
- Engage in a four-corner debate. Students begin class by studying several quotes/statements and writing down their stance and evidence to support it. In each corner of the room have signs “Strongly Agree”, “Agree”, “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree”. Students go to the appropriate corner, discuss with their like-minded peers and create their best argument to support their opinion.
- Students can create a dialogue between opposing views. One easy example is Malcolm X (in beginning) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. They can perform the dialogues for extra credit.
- Hold a trial. Put Hitler on trial as the most evil man in history. Have lawyers prosecute and defend him. Put witnesses on the stand (one should be his dog; he loved him and would stop what he was doing to cook for him!)
A good book to read and use as a resource, if you’re teaching American History, is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. You can check here for the current price on Amazon. It is written from the perspective “common man” and gives great food-for-thought.
Controversy sells. If you can incite students to have strong opinions they will engage and learn. Not only will they learn the subject content but will improve their research, verbal and writing skills. Taking a stand on a topic encourages students to make connections and question “facts”. These are invaluable skills to impart.
Looking at history through the lens of a contrarian is fun; try it!
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