HISTORY EDUCATION IS IN DECLINE because it fails to provide knowledge useful in the future. It's up to history teachers to save history schooling.
History education is fundamentally different from other school subjects in that it doesn't identify general principles derived from its subject matter--principles that describe how the world works that can be applied in the future, such as addition and subtraction in mathematics, spelling and grammar in language, and photosynthesis and gravity in science.
Experts in disciplines other than history are dedicated to identifying general principles of knowledge, which they pass on to teachers, who pass on this knowledge to future generations. Historians, on the other hand, are dedicated to describing events of the past. With rare exceptions, they do not identify principles of knowledge that can be applied in the future. So general principles are not part of the official history curriculum taught in schools, and teachers are left without general principles to pass on to their students. Teachers are reduced to recounting isolated events of the past.
Educators commonly try to compensate for history's lack of subject-matter knowledge useful in the future by emphasizing skills knowledge instead: critical thinking skills or the job skills of professional historians. Other school subjects also have their critical thinking skills and professional practices, but in these other disciplines general principles constitute the foundation of learning because knowledge of how the world works is a necessary prerequisite to critical thinking. In history education that necessary prerequisite is missing.
Education exists to impart knowledge useful in the future. Without principles of knowledge applicable to the future, history is unable to fulfill the purpose of education the way other school subjects do. Without principles applicable to the future, society has no practical means to learn from the past, and the cycle of historical ignorance can perpetuate indefinitely. As Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
If historians wish to concentrate on the role of describing events of the past, that's their business. Then the task of providing knowledge useful in the future falls to history educators, because that's their business. It's time that history educators took charge of history education.
Former journalist and history teacher Mike Maxwell embarked on a seven-year journey to discover how history education could be made more useful to students and society. The result of his investigation is future-focused history, the logical idea that knowledge from the past can inform judgment in the future.
FUNDAMENTALS OF FUTURE-FOCUSED HISTORY TEACHING INCLUDE
Five basic principles of history education, A coherent and useful purpose to guide instruction, Four kinds of historical knowledge relevant to the future, Criteria for weighing the importance of historical events, Four essential cognitive learning strategies.
Maxwell believes that Future-Focused History Teaching has the potential to restore to historical learning the power that it once held but has since lost; to return history to its rightful place of prominence among the fundamental realms of knowledge taught in school and college; and to provide important knowledge of how the world works that can help students and society to function effectively in the future.