General Discussion

Review Comments and Discussions

Those of you who looked at or downloaded Investigating American History may not have found at least one thing you may have been looking for—an expository account that could be titled "The Story of America."

We grew up with textbooks organized chronologically--(e.g. "Early America," "The Colonial Period," "The Road to Independence," "The Formation of a National government," "Westward Expansion and Regional Differences, etc., etc.).  With this background, it's easy to assume that there is, in fact, "The Story of..." rather than "_A_ Story of..." Notwithstanding all those textbook accounts, there IS no coherent story of America's past, if by "coherent" one means "story" in the usual sense of the word--a neat, linear, logically connected or linked series of events stretching from Columbus to the present.

To quote one of my teachers, David Potter, Coe Professor of History at Yale, "In its headlong, ad hoc assault upon the record of human experience, history has built its narrative upon an extraordinary melange of unstated premises, random assumptions, untested hypotheses, and miscellaneous notions about the nature of man, the workings of society, and the causation of historical change."

I'm trying to encourage looking at history not as a story, but as a source of an infinite number of stories, many of which, when carefully analyzed, help us make more sense of humans in general and our selves in particular. Particular stories are just "vehicles" – raw material for improving the process of sense-making. Their value doesn't lie in being able to recall the particular facts assembled to make a particular story, but in a story's usefulness in improving "higher order" thinking. It's one thing to be able to recount the day-by-day unfolding of The Great Depression. It's a different thing to derive from the study of depresssions useful generalizations about the dynamics of depressions.

This won't interest some of you. As an administrator at one time working with and observing a couple of hundred history teachers, I found that most were interested in "making the past come alive." That's fine, it's just not the focus of the Handbook and its "hands on" activities. (Think "science / process / intellect" rather than "humanities / content / emotion." Both are legitimate, but very different.)


Hello all,

I teach 7th grade World History at the Hudson Middle School, and I would like to put in my two cents regarding Marion's American History Handbook for Teachers and Mentors [now renamed Investigating American History--ed.].

In the 2010-11 school year I downloaded this handbook, as well as the Connections download that Marion makes available on his website, and throughout the 2010-11 school year began working Marion's ideas into my seventh grade World History curriculum. In the 2011-12 school year I will continue to do so as well as exploring new approaches and uses that I can see for his model.

I recommend that other teachers consider doing the same, and I recommend they do so for two reasons. The first is that Marion's approach involves the use of inquiry (Marion's term is investigation) in approaching the study of history. As a Middle School teacher I use the inquiry approach in my classroom and feel that if recall is the goal (hardly a lofty goal but one that is far too prevalent), the traditional approaches are probably adequate. But if understanding and helping students improve their thinking is the goal, inquiry is the way to reach it, and you will want to spent some time with Marion's important and useful ideas regarding the use of primary sources and inquiry/investigation in history instruction (in this handbook I especially recommend the sections on "Primary Sources and Complex Thought," "Ramifications of Active Learning," and "How To Build Investigations").

My second reason is the systems approach Marion refers to as simply "The Model." The model is an excellent way of helping students organize information beginning with four major, and very familiar, categories; setting (the enire milieu), actors (ie.demography) action (patterned ways of acting), and finally plot (shared ideas). From there each category can branch out in a myriad of ways, but the original conceptual categories are the basic organizer. In my classroom (on the Smartboard and as a wall poster) I used a version of the graphic Marion uses in his handbook to demonstrate the model and the kids soon came up with a name for it: Marion's model became "The Circle of Life." We not only used this basic system model as a way to help students organize what they had learned, and also found it an excellent way to move towards helping students make and think through inferences, hypothesize, and generate ideas about the people, ideas, and events that we studied. For the next school year, I will continue using "The Circle of Life" as an organizer, and continue developing ways to use to help students to develop and infer patterns.

Although it is difficult to convey everything about this handbook in a short post, I would highly recommend that teachers download the handbook, spend some time thinking through it, and see how you can incorporate Marion's many ideas into your teaching.



Michael M. Yell
2008-9 President, National Council for the Social Studies
Hudson Middle School
National Board Certified Teacher


Hello Michael and all Middle-L listers.

I would like to confirm Michael's spot-on analysis of Marion's handbook on American History.  I used it a good portion of it last year and found the inquiry method much more thought provoking than traditional texts.  The reliance on primary source documentation is a splendid complement to the information organization system ("the Model").  Even if you are strapped to state social studies trivia test, you can afford the time to use these lessons sporadically, and the students will notice the difference in how they are required to think----mostly in a positive vein.

If we are to be strapped to a state social studies test, this model would better our students in being able to organize information rather than just reguritate it.

Max Fischer


Dec 16, 2014

Mr. Brady,

I'm afraid I might have been the cause in the latest surge of downloads.  At the end of October I ran across your site when looking for a decent US History curriculum for my two boys whom I homeschool.  I skimmed through your handbook and was ecstatic to finally find a curriculum that was both secular and unbiased.  I was so excited about it that I shared your site with all the homeschooling groups that I am a part of, online and off.  One of those groups is a Facebook page with over 7,000 members.

We have started your historical investigations this month and it has been a huge hit with my two.  I love it because it teaches them how to think for themselves and to question the facts they are given.  It is not revisionist nor traditionalist.  It lets the students decide for themselves what happened.  While both of my children lean heavily towards the math and sciences, I feel confident that they will be great historians too.

Thank you so much for putting all the together.

                                                     --Jessica Moseman

March 31, 2020

Dear Mr. Brady, When I first began homeschooling my two sons at age 5 and 10, I felt overwhelmed with responsibility and I lacked confidence for the task that lay ahead. I am not a teacher, and didn’t feel comfortable working from school textbooks – it just didn’t feel right. There was no thrill of discovery in the textbooks I looked at – no real sense of the stories behind moments in history. I searched online to see what other homeschoolers were using, and discovered an educational forum where I learned about your work. I reached out to you, and you generously gave me a copy of your History curriculum. I also bought a book of yours I found online, and read your material several times. 

Your teaching methods were exactly what worked for us – it “clicked” with me as being the most appropriate way to introduce history to youngsters who loved stories and making connections. Your method brings subjects to life. Your curriculum generated a lot of discussion, and – ultimately – a deep love of history shared by my sons. Your methods of teaching challenge young students to think and to be active learners – a true gift for young students. You fundamentally changed the way I think about learning/teaching at home, and what youngsters are capable of, if we just give them a chance.

My younger son is about to graduate from college, and I'm writing an independent book about teaching math at home. You're the first person I'm thanking in my book's introduction, because you gave me a road map for how to make learning engaging and yes, fun. That's the key, isn't it? I'm forever grateful to you and your amazing work. You seriously changed three lives in our family. You were way ahead of your time in what curriculum could be – should be – like. I’d love to be included on your testimonial page – I encourage everyone with kids to look closely at your curriculum. All the best, Clare Larson

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