By Karen Chernoff, Dwight School Social Studies Teacher
When I went to high school, memorizing information for a history test was key for a high mark. Rarely was the expectation to truly understand information, nor was it required to make connections among other people and events, let alone to make connections with other regions. Essay writing required a litany of examples; even final exam requirements rarely obligated one to understand patterns or cross-regional material. Thus, teachers who taught United States or European History seldom made a connection between these or any other regions.
In contrast, in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level (HL) History of the Americas or HL History with a strong emphasis on European and Asian History, students are expected to draw connections and to focus on patterns and perspectives. These skills are expectations of the IB, made obvious by required mark schemes. Skills such as these are also critical in life because analysis involving the understanding of patterns helps to provide a more complete picture of a person or a people. Such analysis may also explain why a country takes the actions, or reacts the way, it does. Teaching only one aspect of a person's life or of an event lessens students' understanding of the "truth." Here is where an IB History course differs from other classes, and where learning rich layers of history can change a student's life.
For example, in IB History, teaching context is paramount, and a student's understanding of context helps his/her work and point of view gain credibility. In addition, understanding how context relates to one's point of view enables a student to better argue and support that point of view, providing invaluable practice for real-life scenarios. The more thoughtful, constructive support one provides to an argument, the more meaningful the discussion becomes for all. Background information such as dates, times, regions, previous history, patterns, cultural norms, and so forth constitute support for one's claim; the absence of which should be challenged. In IB History classes, students must provide valid premises for their work.
IB History constantly pushes a student to look beyond his/her personal perspective to get closer to the "truth." Failure to do so is myopic and will ultimately lead to a poor mark and provide the student with little in the way of reflection.
As in life, the audience to whom a person is speaking or for whom a person is writing, changes the language used; this, too, must be weighed and factored into IB History papers as they are judged for having "appropriate" language. In life, knowing one's audience and speaking to that audience wins arguments and opens doors to opportunity.
IB History requires students to understand events, people, and cultures from various perspectives and to go beyond the value of one's own perspective. Analysis and incorporation of added perspectives, here again, allows for an open dialogue and other points to challenge. Ultimately, IB students must have a point of view, but backing up that point of view, requires insight, understanding, and thoughtfulness.
Teaching IB History well helps students to make informed choices that require both deductive and inductive reasoning. The end goal is to challenge students to make judgments that are more logical, analytical, and balanced, which can impact positively on all aspects of their lives ― and on our world.