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People Need to Know

Confronting History in the Heartland


Robert M. Lucas

People Need to Know follows a group of students as they study the defining event in their community’s history – a 1930 lynching that was captured in one of the century’s most iconic and disturbing photographs. With ambitions of contributing to public understanding, the students set out to create a collection of online resources about the lynching. As they encounter troubling information and consider how best to present it to others, the students come to better understand the complex ethical ramifications of historical work and to more fully appreciate why their learning matters. Through the stories of these students, their teacher, and an author re-immersed in the town of his own childhood, the book develops an approach to curriculum in which students create products of value beyond the school walls. In a time of educational standardization, when assignments and assessments often fail to deliberately engage the ethically charged and locally particular contexts of students’ lives, Robert M. Lucas proposes that we see learning in their creation and appreciation of public value. The book will be of particular interest for courses in curriculum studies and in history and social studies education.
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Chapter 2. Learning-as-a-Service


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Every method which appeals to the child’s active powers, to his capacities in construction, production, and creation, marks an opportunity to shift the center of ethical gravity from an absorption which is selfish to a service which is social.

—JOHN DEWEY (1903, P. 17)

The assumptions reflected in the CHP stand out against the current educational landscape, but they are not without precedent. This chapter places them in the context of a long, primarily Deweyan tradition and sets out a rationale for investigating the public value of students’ work products. There has been a tendency in recent thought and practice, even among Dewey’s heirs, to regard these work products as externalized indications of capacities for thinking and understanding that are the property of individual learners. Occasionally, they are taken as cognitive achievements shared among members of a classroom learning community. I would like to draw attention to another possibility: of considering those work products in terms of the values they create for others—the ways in which they edify, entertain, enlighten, or prove otherwise useful—especially for audiences outside the school. Of course, it will always remain important to consider the capacities that students develop through this work. It is in the public interest, most would agree, to see that young citizens develop skills, habits, and values necessary to sustain a democratic society. Such a society also typically affirms the legitimate pursuit of personal interests, subject to some...

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