Change as Progressive, Rational, and Limited in Time
Keith Barton spent a year in two Cincinnati classrooms, observing, discussing lessons with the teachers, and interviewing students. In his formal interviewing he showed pictures from different periods of American history to pairs of fourth and fifth graders and asked them to put the pictures in order, explaining their reasons as they did so.
He found that students envisaged change as something linear and “generally beneficial.” They tended to think of change as being spatially and temporally limited in scope and “conceived of history as involving a limited number of discrete events, rather than lengthy and extensive processes.” They “thought of change as having come about for logical reasons” and believed that people in the past decided to make changes because they realized, usually in the face of some particular event, that change would improve matters. Hence Jenny, a fourth-grade student, explained the end of witch trials like this:
Jenny has turned a process of change into an event. Someone important made a rational decision that everyone accepted forthwith.
SOURCES: Barton (1996), Lee and Ashby (2001).