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2016 Exemplary Research Award

“What Happened Needs to Be Told”: Fostering Critical Historical Reasoning in the Classroom

Eric B. Freedman, Ph.D.
Sacred Heart University
Fairfield, CT

Eric Freedman’s work pushes the study of historical reasoning beyond the current focus on student responses to teacher-determined historical inquiries/questions. In his article, Freedman questions whether students can learn to frame their own inquiries and develop an understanding of the subjective nature of historiography. After a thorough review of the literature that develops the critical historical reasoning framework guiding his research, Freedman examines an instructional unit and develops his expanded view of historiography.

In Freedman’s research study, forty students, ages 14–15, wrote histories of the Vietnam War from 12 primary accounts and compared their depictions to that of their textbook. After participating in the unit, students found the textbook factually accurate yet biased in its pattern of emphasis and omission, a conclusion that aligned with the unit’s goal of helping them distinguish empirical integrity from interpretive frame. However, whereas critical theorists view all scholarship as partially subjective, the students sought to achieve objectivity by including “both sides” in their histories. The study suggests that educators should highlight the numerous dilemmas historians face, from framing their topic to selecting and analyzing evidence. The importance of "framing" recasts how we see most of the research of recent years on teaching and learning history. This is a wonderfully argued research article that is remarkable in that it explicates what is missing in a great deal of the research on the topic.

Freedman presented a session on his research topic at the NCSS Annual Conference, Dec. 2-4, 2016, Washington, D.C., that examined how a ninth grade class responded to the question of what should be emphasized, and what glossed over or omitted in a history of the Vietnam War, and then discussed how their favorite answer—to allot equal space to all points of view—falls short of what a critical approach to historical investigation requires.

Freedman is Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Sacred Heart University and teaches at Millenium High School in New York City, NY. He earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, a Bacherlor of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology (with Honors) and Teacher Certification in Secondary Social Studies (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York) from Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA. 

About the NCSS Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award