Curriculum Uncovering History

Uncovering Truman’s Decision to Fire McArthur

The following was originally posted elsewhere on 5/19/2012.

I took a first shot at adapting and implementing Bruce Lesh’s lesson on Truman’s decision to fire MacArthur on Thursday and Friday. The first day was mainly establishing context using maps, notes, and political cartoons. I found this to be fairly labored, and my large 4th period class in particular had difficulty following the differentiated directions for the maps (each student did a map representing one of four points in time in the Korean War) and switching between notes, cartoons, and examining polling data. On the second day, however, where students worked to understand the context of Truman’s decision I found students to be more engaged than anticipated, especially given the hot, muggy conditions in S109 on a Friday afternoon.  The second draft of my adaption can be downloaded from the materials page.

Students needed more prompting to interpret the polling data than I anticipated, perhaps because polling data is very likely to be of much less interest than it is to me.  The second time through during 5th period I waited until day 2 to have students examine the polling data, and then I had them work in groups to label the main idea of each poll.  Some students also struggled with gleaning historical evidence from the time line, but I found this to be a teachable moment to discuss what is meant by historical evidence.  Nearly all student groups were able to put several items into a T chart of evidence supporting and undermining Truman’s decision to fire MacArthur; and, groups with items in their T charts were all able to discuss what was the best evidence in each column and report it out to the class.  I found the small group-pick a presenter-report out model to work fairly well.

Students picked up on the goal of understanding Truman’s decision as opposed to judging.  I found this to be true of the Atomic Bomb activity as well [SHEG’s lesson on remembering the atomic bombings of Japan], where students decided how to remember the bomb as opposed to judging HST’s decision to use it.  Not only is this show more authentic historical practice, it also opens up space for discussion beyond facile and often short Pro/Con debates.

Note: A couple of years ago I secured a small grant that paid for books and staff time for US History teaching colleagues and I to discuss Bruce Lesh’s Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? and our experiences in putting his history lab ideas into practice.   My blog posts from the time will be losing their host and there are a couple that I am reposting on this site before they all go *poof*. 

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

Let me know what you think!

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