Teaching Hard History

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How can conversations across the K-16 continuum and beyond help us more effectively address pedagogical challenges and contested or controversial histories?  This is the question that the 2021 Teaching History Conference will consider.  Hosted by the UC Davis History Project, and occurring online on May 7-8, the conference provides a space for historians and educators to discuss “teaching hard history.”  Teaching hard history happens by choice and by circumstance when educators take a moment to step back and consider the multitude of disruptions that have happened to the educational system over the past year.  Teaching hard history also occurs when we re-evaluate content and pedagogy.  Conference workshops, panel discussions, seminars, roundtables, and keynote discussions all aim to engage a wide-ranging group of K-16 history educators on different aspects of the challenges of our moment.

The popularity of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History, Black Lives Matters Protests, and the heightened statewide interest in K-12 Ethnic Studies have illustrated how “educators across the K-20 continuum are attempting to tackle these challenging topics,” according to Stacey Greer, Director of the UC Davis History Project and one of this year’s lead conference organizers.  Sessions like “Kids Aren’t Too Young: Starting the Conversation about Race/Racism in the Classroom” and “Teaching Pre-modern Slavery in a Global Perspective” seek to translate academic scholarship to the classroom.  A number of sessions about Indigenous people of the Americas, LGBTQ history and Ethnic Studies center historical content and pedagogy in their discussions.  Other sessions are designed to interrogate the construction of the field itself – the university-level positionality of history education and schools of education, why courses should be framed as questions, and how we educators can best determine what learning should look like.

Next month’s Teaching History Conference is the fourth of the biennial events, and the first hosted online.  The conference series began in 2015 through a partnership between the UC Berkeley History Department  graduate students, the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project, the American Historical Association, and the California History-Social Science Project.  “One of our core values is to create a space in which K-12 teachers, university and college faculty, graduate students, teacher educators, education researchers, and history practitioners from a range of contexts can learn from each other while exploring shared problems of practice,” is how Greer explained the history and mission of the conference.  Especially over the past year, educators have been forced to experiment with new methods, but also they have been challenged to incorporate topics that are likely new and are certainly weighted differently than in the past.  With the world of education turned upside down in so many ways, we have seen history educators reimagine and redesign their professional roles to meet the moment. 

One of the challenges of hosting an online conference is providing a space for professional connections and communities of practice to develop.  The virtual happy hour, discussion spaces, and conference platform will foster these informal, but meaningful connections.  Registration is open until Saturday, May 1, and opportunities for collaboration are encouraged as we work to bridge the K-16 history-social science continuum.  

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