Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Answer Is Always Teach Less History

I avoided reading in the NY Times magazine about billg's new idea, the Big History Project, for as long as I could, but I gave in today, achieving some kind of symmetry by reading while watching the Apple Watch rollout.

First off, it is nice to see Gates moving onto a new shiny thing.

After a fairly superficial overview of the course, the most annoying thing is that it is primarily presented as a history course, when it is science and the history of technology. Perhaps everybody would prefer it to be an interdisciplinary course, or even better the cross-course theme of an interdisciplinary school for a year. Gates complains about the difficulty of doing multi-disciplinary courses in our high schools. Perhaps after funding the creation of schools in Providence designed from the ground up for such work almost 15 years ago his foundation might have lifted a finger to suggest that they ought not to be closed abruptly.

This effort does share an underlying flaw with the Common Core: a lack of interest in defining the disciplines and their roles. What is English/Language Arts? The Common Core does not say. If Big History is a combination of science and history, what are science and history? If you had to choose between replacing Earth Science or World History with Big History, why would you choose the history requirement? If the history of technology is part of history, does that mean history is a STEM field?

I do feel like this may be a somewhat indirect way for Gates to address what everyone knows is the real Big Problem today: climate change. It is a techno-centric, market-oriented view of history, but it certainly seems to funnel discussion in the end toward global warming, in the least tree-hugging way possible. I assume I'm not the only one to have noticed this and the right will fold Big History into their Common Core freakout.

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