Broken Thinking Report

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General Tasks:

After learning of the terror of the Great War, we ask – why was it fought? Looking at the Great Depression, we wonder – what could have led to this? Exploring ‘Cause and Consequence’ in a history course tends to favor discussions of the acts of individuals or states. To balance that, in the context of our Second World War unit, we try to see the atrocities of the early 20th c. as the result of ideas, which lead to and issue from basic worldviews, driving the actions of people in real circumstances. Worldview analysis, basic to any history course, is explicitly modeled to students in an earlier critique of ‘progress’ that fits nicely when covering the consumerism and economic boom of the 1920s. Students will see the events of the more recent past in the light of the ideas and worldviews that spawned them; students become astute cultural observers so that they might become thoughtful and impassioned cultural contributors. They will appreciate the importance of understanding one’s own worldview and others’.

Students will read a limited number of basic secondary sources to achieve an understanding of the nature, source, context and outworking of a particular ideology. They are encouraged to choose from fascism, communism, and eugenics/social Darwinism, as these are at the root of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century.

A 500-700 word report is then end product to show an understanding of: 1) What is the idea? 2) Who held these ideas? , and 3)What are the results of this idea?

WEEK 1: Introduce it at the end of the 1930s after showing how wrong-headed the idea of protectionism was when trying to solve the Depression. This gears them up to tackle other ‘bad ideas’. Later, introduce the assignment and review its scope. Assign students to locate and print an encyclopedia article for next week.

WEEK 2: During silent reading time, students set aside their normal reading to begin reading the overview article. Check for good articles, ensure students have appropriate reading level. Students to read and take organized jot notes as previously modeled. Students to locate additional sources and hand in a 3-source Works Cited page; return with feedback immediately. Later that week, model the format of the report. Explain that the introductory paragraph should justify the importance of knowing about ‘broken ideas’; i.e. why are you doing this assignment?

WEEK 3: Students to hand in intro paragraph and 1st body paragraph. Return with feedback on writing, formatting, but to check for understanding of the basics of the ideology.

WEEK 4: Submit final report, Works Cited page, and handwritten jot notes for evaluation.

**A separate, ongoing activity that supports this assignment is a Reading Log (done 2-3 times a week for 15 min). Like silent reading in an English class, students read general, then specific historical sources with scaffolded weekly reading questions that are linked to the concepts of historical thinking (Establish historical significance, Use primary source evidence, Identify continuity and change, Analyze cause and consequence, Take historical perspectives, and Understand the ethical dimension of historical interpretations) Students may choose any historical book, including historical fiction, as long as it relates to 20th c. Canada and they are interested in it. This activity generates interest in historical reading and the weekly reading questions hold them responsible for their learning. This is throughout the course, builds toward all the various units and assignments, and hones their reading and research skills. Never before have my students actually read so much history and developed personal historical interests.

Suggested Resources:

Depending on the ideologies researched and the academic ability of students, teachers may make available a selected set of secondary sources. School librarians are very helpful in this regard. A great database is the Britannica School database, as most articles are available in 2 or 3 reading levels. The Canadian Encyclopedia online is always encouraged. I found “10 Books that Screwed up the World” by Benjamin Wiker a useful backgrounder for a teacher, but also as a great source for more academic students. There are no unique and technologically complicated requirement or resources – this is a good, old-fashioned ‘think hard’ assignment.

Broken Thinking Report

Brad Armishaw


Nepean, Ontario

We try to see the atrocities of the early 20th century as the result of ideas, not simply as the result of individuals.

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