Husband. Father. Teacher. Coach. Now, Podcast Host and Blogger.
My name is Michael Sandstrom and I am history teacher in northwest Nebraska. Growing up in rural Nebraska, I knew little of the outside world. I had a happy childhood, as I ran, played outdoors, and caused only minor mischief (hopefully). My outlet to the rest of the world, however, has always been history. I was fortunate enough to have teachers, at all levels, that fostered a love for the past. Consequently, as I graduated high school, I set upon a path to teaching history.
Post-Secondary Education Background:
I completed my Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Social Studies Secondary education from Chadron State College in 2013. A year later, I commenced my graduate degree from Chadron State College, a Masters of Education (MAE) in History. My selection for the James Madison Fellowship highlighted my graduate experience. The James Madison Fellowship Foundation is an organization established by Congress in 1986 to promote the teaching of America’s constitutional foundations. The James Madison Fellowship Summer Institute held at Georgetown University every summer allows Fellows to learn from distinguished faculty and engross themselves in America’s constitutional origins. The summer of 2016 at Georgetown altered my goals and outlook toward history. In June 2017, I completed my degree and looked for the next challenge. I found that challenge in Gilder Lehrman’s Masters degree in American History. The program allows students to take courses from well-known scholars and enhance their teaching abilities. My experience in this program pushed me toward establishing my own platform to research and discuss the past.
Throughout my educational journey, I taught history at the high school level in Colorado and Nebraska. I spent three years in northeastern Colorado before returning to northwestern Nebraska. Throughout my career, I taught mostly American history, but have also taught Civics, World History, and Cultural Relations courses. In addition, my duties included Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses in American history and government through the local colleges. In 2019, I was selected as Gilder Lehrman’s Nebraska History Teacher of the Year. This honor, along with my acceptance into National History Day’s Silent Heroes Project, were highlights of my professional career. This blog and podcast is an outgrowth of my desire to reach as many ears as possible. I enjoy my classroom and students, but I believe that I can reach more listeners and readers without the confines of space and time. As you listen, remember that I consider myself a teacher first and foremost.
Philosophy/Principles in Teaching History:
Civic competence and historical knowledge should command a prominent role in America’s educational system. Throughout the twentieth century, however, a disconnect developed between the goal of education and the pursuit of an enlightened and empowered citizenry. America’s political institutions responded to troubling trends in mathematics, reading, and standardized testing by promoting a rigorous yet narrow-minded approach to educational outcomes. The political solutions created, or at least enlarged, the incongruences between historical study and the desired educational outcomes. As the divisiveness of the 2016 election illustrated, American society needs a knowledgeable body of citizens to withstand the overt negativity, especially in regards to the media. As an educator, I began to notice that students’ disengagement from history often involved its foreign nature. It is often repeated that the past is a foreign country and for many students this trope is all too accurate. Consequently, I connect local history with the national currents from our class. In that way, I hope to familiarize students with the way our rural locality affects and participates in the national narrative. Students believe that they possess all the required information at their fingertips, but the power unleashed by the study of history does not come from the memorization of dates and random facts. Rather, my goal, every day, is to make history both relevant and challenging in the hope that they are better prepared for the twenty-first century. In order to accomplish this, primary source analysis and contextualization form the cornerstone of my teaching practice.
I appreciate the varying methods and strategies that educators use to impart knowledge, but my foundation is in the interpretation of primary sources. The ability to recite facts, dates, and events is important, as every student must start from a factual base; however, in my view, the greatest benefit, from my classes and most history courses in general, is the development of historical thinking skills. From my courses’ outset, I establish these critical skills (such as sourcing, corroboration, contextualization, and close reading) as my central aims. Students that can interpret and contextualize primary sources are infinitely more pliable in an ever-changing and evolving world. From a historiographical standpoint, interpretations are in constant flux, but the ability to unravel sources, provide an argument, and defend it will remain invaluable. My primary source approach informs my teaching in several ways. Depending on the topic and available sources, students might be grappling with written correspondence, laws or legal opinions, political illustrations, or primary source videos on many themes. The educational outcomes for these activities vary, but they are designed to provide a link between the historical actors and matters of critical civic importance in our modern-day society. My classroom relies heavily on written assessments and oral discussion to gauge student learning and provoke critical thinking, but I believe debate and active participation is critical as well. I often incorporate Socratic Seminars, Structured Academic Controversies, reenactments, simulations, and other forums to build student engagement that come directly from the primary and secondary sources.
Connecting students to living history is important and provides context to their lives and their ancestors’. I established a close working relationship with our local museum curator in order to connect my students with their local history. As a small, agricultural community, many students are the second, third, or fourth generation to reside in our community. Therefore, seeing their community’s history provides relevance. From this platform, I introduce many of the critical themes, events, and people from America’s past. By placing these topics in context, students learn to distinguish causation, change over time, continuity, and other critical skills. If I can help students develop historical empathy and critical thinking through local and national history, then they will be better prepared for the instability and unpredictability of their lives in the twenty-first century.
About the Show:
Welcome to Cutting Edge History. I developed Cutting Edge History to look into the key questions from the past that pique my interest or the audience’s. I will read the literature, interview scholars, and present my findings in a convenient and unconventional style. As you listen, you can imagine me performing a similar function as an Armchair Quarterback, without throwing any beer cans at the TV. I hope that you will join me, Michael Sandstrom, on this weekly podcast and blog, as I keep you on the Cutting Edge of History.
As a podcaster and blogger, I still consider myself a teacher; therefore, Cutting Edge History will undertake critical questions and themes in American and world history. The objective will be to provide contextual understanding regarding the important people, events, and ideas that shaped our modern world. In addition, to examine the latest scholarship available and provide my unique (and sometimes unconventional) take on the subject. Understand that I am undertaking topics that I have not fully developed an answer to. I am a student in the quest of knowledge and I hope that you will join me. After my research and thought, I hope that I provide “food for thought” and a launching-off point for your own research.
**Disclaimer: I am not a historian, nor do I pretend to play one on the Internet. My analysis and interpretations of primary and secondary literature are my own. I will make every effort to be thorough, however, I am certain that many listeners may disagree with my interpretations. That is alright and I respect our difference of opinion.