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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 5. Realizing the Public Values of Learning


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Most of the students participating in this project, we can now say, saw their work as having value for themselves and others. Yet did others see the work as having such value? How would readers respond, and would they find value in the same places the students saw it? To answer these questions, I turned to the community, identifying audience members from a variety of backgrounds, presenting them with the students’ wiki pages, and then soliciting their assessments of the pages’ quality and the project’s value. In the first half of this chapter, I discuss interviews with members of the public from various walks of life, most of them from the Marion community, including a newspaper editor, a prosecuting attorney, and two members of the library’s local history staff. In the chapter’s second half, I report on the reactions of four trained historians.

These interviews serve several purposes: They provide an external sense of the quality and value of the exhibit as seen from different points of view. The reviewers are critical in places, but their overall assessments are largely positive, establishing with reasonable confidence that the students made real contributions to public knowledge. They also show how a sampling of people read and evaluated the work—the grounds on which they judged its quality, the sorts of critiques and suggestions they made, and the types of value they saw. By identifying the various ways...

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