Using Primary Resources for High School

In order to develop into historians themselves, students must first learn how to conduct research as well as how to evaluate the quality of their evidence. An important factor in studying history is getting to the truth. Because different people bring their own thoughts to their reports, many textbooks end up being a biased interpretation of events.

Primary Resources for High School History and Government

In our state, a half credit of U.S. Government is required for high school graduation. It’s not easy to find good homeschool curriculum for a one-semester course on this subject, so we’ve been creating our own course using several different resources.

U.S. History and Government: Readings and Documents is a collection of 122 original source documents from American history arranged chronologically from the exploration of North America through President Bush’s speech in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001.

Cultivating Historians

In order to develop into historians themselves, students must first learn how to conduct research as well as how to evaluate the quality of their evidence. An important factor in studying history is getting to the truth. Because different people bring their own thoughts to their reports, many textbooks end up being a biased interpretation of events.


U.S. History and Government: Readings and Documents is a unique type of textbook containing primary resources. It does contain brief introductions to each unit, review questions, and essay assignments. However, rather than having chapters written by the textbook author, this book contains original documents, such as the following:

  • first-hand accounts
  • statements by government officials
  • government laws
  • court cases
  • official communications
  • photographs
  • posters
  • paintings
  • drawings
  • cartoons
  • tables and graphs

U.S. History and Government: Readings and Documents can be used as a supplement to any history curriculum.

Pros

My high school aged son and I use this book as a resource for his government course. He finds it to be easy to understand and likes its format. It is a medium-sized paperback, which makes it less cumbersome than a bulky hardback. The units are not only chronological but also arranged by theme, which makes it easy to find what my son is looking for. And, the units are short, meaning each reading only takes a short amount of time to complete. We also use this book as a helpful resource for my son’s research paper writing.

Cons

Because it is a school textbook, many homeschoolers might overlook U.S. History and Government: Readings and Documents. Also, from the title and look of the cover, some might think it is just another history textbook and not a collection of primary resources.

What You’ll Find Inside

Some of the documents in this treasure trove of information include these:

  • The Mayflower Compact
  • Aboard a Slave Ship
  • English Bill of Rights
  • George Washington’s Farewell Address
  • “The Atlanta Compromise” by Booker T. Washington
  • Woodrow Wilson on World War I
  • Two Poems from the Harlem Renaissance
  • New Deal Programs
  • Relocation of Japanese Americans
  • Little Rock School Desegregation (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
  • On Reducing the Size of Government (Ronald Reagan)
  • Suspenion of the War in the Persian Gulf (George H. Bush)

One thing I particularly like about U.S. History and Government: Readings and Documents is the format of the essay questions at the end of each unit. If this book is used solely as a resource or reference book, these questions could be skipped. However, I think the author did a good job of presenting topics for students to think and write about in a non-biased way. For example, in one unit, students are asked to look at both sides of an issue:

-Describe two freedoms or opportunities that were created by settlement in North America by Europeans

-Show how two groups of people suffered from injustice as a result of the exploration and settlement of North America by Europeans

So, rather than presenting her bias in the essay question, the author allows the student to investigate the pros and cons of an issue through his or her own research.

Within another example question,  the author provides a list of groups and asks students to choose a few of them to tell how they were affected by the conditions of the times. Students can look at the positive and/or negative effects.

One of my challenges as a high school teacher is in getting students to use evidence to support their thesis statements. Also, teaching them to evaluate the validity of that evidence before deciding if it should be included can be tricky. The teens in my homeschool research paper group have a hard time with this, but resources like U.S. History and Government make my job easier.

Teaching students to be true historians is more than giving them a book of facts to memorize.

What’s your biggest challenge in teaching your students how to conduct research?

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