Making History More Relevant, One Case At A Time

Historians in the News
tags: teaching, history

After years of teaching high school history, Maureen O’Hern was looking for a new way to make it relevant and engaging for students. She found the answer in a surprising place — Harvard Business School and its use of case studies. 

During a recent lesson, eleventh graders in her Advanced Placement U. S. history class at Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester pulled their desks into semi-circles and faced O’Hern. 

“Let’s jump back into where we left off. What were some of King’s strategies and how and why did he develop those strategies?” O’ Hern asked.

Instead of lecturing about the 1960s and Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil disobedience campaign, O’Hern posed questions. She prodded students to use evidence and build an argument. She eventually led these high school juniors to one of King’s critical decision-making moments — whether King and demonstrators should march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. after the federal government had ordered King not to.

“Why is he still contemplating crossing? We’ve talked about a lot of the concerns, safety of the people, going against the wishes of the federal government,” O’Hern said. “What’s happening here?”

Many of the students thought King should cross the bridge, citing evidence from a document on their desks.

“Obviously people are starting to lose interest,” Melina Fernandes, 16, said to the class. “And I think that him being arrested for breaking a federal order will give him publicity back.”

Read entire article at WGBH

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