RMartinello's picture

I am currently the History/Geography head at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, Ontario. I teach History, Law and Civics. I am in my 26th year of teaching.

USING AN ORGANIZER FOR DECISION MAKING TO UNDERSTAND THE ACTIONS OF HISTORICAL ACTORS (UNDERSTANDING PERSPECTIVE AND SIGNIFICANC

One way many teachers use to assist students in their understanding of decisions made by historical actors is to use an organizer for decision making. This involves creating a matrix that combines the ranking of established criteria and cross-referencing the criteria to a set of options facing the historical actor. A classic example, used by many teachers, is to examine Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this case, I have chosen to examine the issue from Truman’s perspective at the time of his decision. This means that the criteria I normally use for deciding the importance of the criteria has to be modified to avoid using “presentism” or using a current lens in examining the decisions of people in the past.

The first task of the student is to rank factors for Truman may have used when making his decision to drop the bomb. The factors we looked at included: loss of life, cost of bomb/war, length of war, moral issues, international reaction. The factors were to be ranked from most important to least important. In order to avoid “presentism”, I took some criteria that has been previously used to examine significance and used it as a model for ranking the impact of a decision. Here’s what the change looks like:

 

The model for significance would normally look like this:

  1. PEOPLE AT THE TIME THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT
  2. IT AFFECTED A LOT OF PEOPLE
  3. IT AFFECTED PEOPLE DEEPLY
  4. IT AFFECTED PEOPLE FOR A LONG TIME
  5. IT STILL AFFECTS ATTITUDES OR BELIEFS TODAY
  6. IT LED TO OTHER IMPORTANT EVENTS

The new model looks like this:

1.            WILL PEOPLE THINK IT IS IMPORTANT

2.             WILL IT  AFFECT A LOT OF PEOPLE

3.             WILL IT AFFECT PEOPLE DEEPLY

4.             WILL IT AFFECT PEOPLE FOR A LONG TIME

5.             WILL IT STILL AFFECT ATTITUDES OR BELIEFS IN THE FUTURE

6.             COULD IT LEAD TO OTHER IMPORTANT EVENTS

 

Based on this criteria, students have to look at the issue as Truman might have at the time, not on how they would look back on it now. I have included an attachment of how I use the organizer making to walk students through their decision making process (see attachment 1 – Organizer for Decision Making). I have also included a second attachment (see attachment 2 – Decision to Drop the Bomb) which includes the summary sheet students use to complete their organizer

I haven’t tried this yet on other issues, but you can see how it could be modified for other topics like Trudeau’s decision to invoke the War Measures Act in the 1970 Quebec Crisis. Just change the factors for decisions: (maybe political responses, likely reaction of the terrorists, public responses in Quebec, public responses in the rest of Canada) and the options (invoke the War Measures Act, use traditional police methods, increase the role of the military)

AttachmentSize
ORGANIZER FOR DECISION MAKING.docx30.02 KB
ATOMIC BOMB OPTIONS.pdf112.37 KB

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections