I bet that title got your attention, didn't it? Well, I'm sure that was Mr. Burton Weltman's intention when he came up with it. However, before you go assuming that this is some sort of revisionist history book, pump the brakes.
Mr. Weltman, an unabashed history nerd, takes aim at the downside of being a history nerd, which is the assumption that everyone must love history as much as us. This leads to a disconnect between many students and their historiophile teachers (yes, I just made that word up). To start, Mr. Weltman takes issue with the way that conventional history is taught: X leads to Y, which causes Z. It's not surprising that history has been taught this way; it allows students to make connections between events and analyze the causes and effects of historical movements. However, this strategy also places fetters on learners and may prevent critical thinking.
This is where Mr. Weltman's revolutionary (pun intended) method comes into play. Rather than learn history through a never ending chain of causes and effects, Weltman has unlocked the manacles of traditional historical learning through what he calls "studying history as choice." Weltman makes the argument that historical actors did not exist in a vacuum, and certainly did not have the luxury of hindsight that we have. Leaders and average citizens alike behaved and made decisions based on the cultural environment and information that was available to them at that time. Weltman scoffs at the idea that historical events were inevitable and always for the best. True critical thinking is always ready to challenge even the most cherished beliefs in order to develop a more well-rounded and insightful understanding of them.
As Plutarch once said, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." For too long, history teachers have been filling their pupil's minds with facts; it's about time we began sparking their curiosity. For those that may question this teaching method, think about how much teenagers love to argue. They will literally argue about anything. Teaching history as choice gives them the agency to analyze the evidence and make a claim about what the best decision should have been at the time. Imagine the power, autonomy and buy-in that gives a student? (particularly one who has already "checked out")
|Can a case really be made suggesting the American Revolution was a mistake? When you teach history as choice, you give your students the tools necessary to make up their own minds by analyzing multiple perspectives and finding evidence.|
The book is organized into two parts. Part I covers the rationale for teaching history as choice. Part II provides the reader with 13 historical scenarios and essential questions to use Mr. Weltman's method. If you are interested in seeing a snippet of the book, use this link to see a Google Books preview.
Some of the essential questions and historical "what ifs" include: