Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Textbook on Trial: The Charges and Getting Started

The charges: How will I get this started? (yesterday's post)

I am thinking I will need to spend some time exploring with students what they already know about our adversarial system of criminal justice. An easy way to initiate this discussion is with the following question: What is the difference between being "innocent until proven guilty" vs. "guilty until proven innocent"? This question provides an opportunity to discuss the idea of burden of proof, which means it is up to the prosecution to prove to a jury that the defendant is guilty of the charges he is being accused of.  
Now explain to students how this semester we will be using the idea or framework of a trial to learn more about history and how history is created. Throughout the course we are going to be putting our textbook on trial. It is the prosecution's contention that the authors of our textbook are guilty of the following "crimes of reason" (might try a different phrase): 

-errors of omission
-providing simplistic accounts
-supporting assertions about the past with little or no evidence
-providing little or no context about a past event
(Some of these charges overlap. Are these enough? Are there others you would add?)
Need to Consider

To conduct a trial there needs to be laws, law enforcement, as well as the following actors: prosecution, defense, judge, jury.

All involved need to understand the law. To make sure that my students understand the laws I listed above, I will need to spend time elaborating, developing these laws. (Thinking of adding to our "legal code", if you will, a series of logical fallacies.)

Also, notice how none of the charges say that the authors are lying outright. I think sometimes teachers and students think that this is the only way that textbooks distort the past. Through this assignment we will often explore, I suspect, more nuanced ways that distortions of the past occur.

Initial Exploration of the Text

I want to spend time with the textbook, so that I can think about ways students will interact with it. At this point, I will likely be all over the place in my planning, trying to get a feel for all of the moving parts.

For this reading of the text, I want you to imagine that you are in the prosecutor's office. We need to spend some time organizing our case, which requires us to think about the law as we carefully read the text.

Have students turn to page 165 in our Modern World History textbook. Already, by providing students with the "mentality of a lawyer" (of a critical reader) you will have changed dramatically how they approach the text. 

I will likely work through this page of the textbook with students. This will give me a chance to talk about how textbooks are written and what we should be looking for.
Page 165 begins with a "Setting the Stage" paragraph. This is an introduction to the section of the text we are reading, which is called the Scientific Revolution.

When writing an intro, an author is preparing the reader for what is to come later in the text. It is ok and accepted that a writer will be general in this opening paragraph.
Under "Setting the Stage" is a bold heading in red: The Roots of Modern Science. Again, we will often find an introductory paragraph under such headings. As critical readers, it is important that we use these headings. In many ways, these headings cue the reader about what they can expect to learn from this section of the text. The author is telling the reader that the proceeding paragraphs will address the following question: What are the roots of modern science? (Talk about turning the section heading into a question)
Point out to students that it is after the introductory paragraph that we will be strictly holding the author to the rules of reason. This is where we, as prosecutors, are going to find violations.
There are two smaller green headings: The 'Medieval View' and 'A New Way of Thinking'. The Medieval View only gets two paragraphs. This is a red flag since it is quite difficult to deal with topics in a careful, thoughtful way in just two paragraphs.
The first paragraph is 5 sentences: "During the Middle Ages, most scholars believed that the earth was an unmoving object located at the center of the universe. According to that belief, the moon, the sun, and the planets all moved in perfectly circular paths around the earth. Beyond the planets lay a sphere of fixed stars, with heaven still farther beyond. Common sense seemed to support this view. After all, the sun appeared to be moving around the earth as it rose in the morning and set  in the evening."
And here is the second and final paragraph of this section. It is also 5 sentences: "This earth centered view of the universe, called the geocentric theory, was supported by more than just common sense. The idea came from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher of the fourth century B.C. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy expanded the theory in the second century A.D. In addition, Christianity taught that God had deliberately placed earth at the center of the universe. Earth was thus a special place on which the great drama of life took place."  
What problems do we detect in these two paragraphs?

Paragraph 1
-When was the Middle Ages? Where does this term come from? (The defense will likely look for references to this term in previous sections of the text. Is the term used previously?)
-"most scholars believed that the earth was an unmoving object": Were there some who did not? That is how this phrase reads. If so, who?
-"the idea came from Aristotle": Is this accurate? Aristotle was the first to come up with geocentric theory? This, I think, is a question we need to explore deeper.
"Beyond the planets lay a sphere of fixed stars, with heaven still farther beyond." A visual would be helpful here. Any art/drawings from these periods that the author could have used?
 More to come... 
What are your thoughts? ideas?

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