One of the many wonderful educators that I follow on Twitter is Mike Kaechele (@mikekaechele), who blogs at the Concrete Classroom. In a recent blog, he asked three questions about teaching students to use primary source material as opposed to simply exposing them to secondary sources, since that is where they will get most of their information in life from anyway. Mike asked:
Is it our job to teach the skills one needs to be a professional historian or is it our job to expose students to the patterns of history and to teach them to think critically?
Is it being a “literacy snob” to value primary sources over other forms of literacy?
Are we forcing a “skill” on students that is not relevant to them and actually makes the subject boring to students?
Obviously, Mike was not approaching this from a Judaic studies perspective, but as someone who spends most of his teaching time specifically teaching texts, I could not allow the questions to go unanswered. I replied:
It is not being a snob at all. Someone who learns only secondary material will wind up being generally informed about the topic, based on the interpretations of others. Someone who learns primary sources will gain the ability to form their own opinions on the topic, and will gain the skills to do the same for other issues. That is not training to be a professional historian – that is training to be a thoughtful and responsible citizen.
Pushing the envelope on the issue, Mike wrote back: