Scott McAleer: Developing Students’ Critical Thinking Skills through the Study of History

man sitting on chair

With a reverence for history that is palpable, Scott McAleer, a faculty member in LBCC’s History Department, surrounds himself with objects of yesteryear.

“I enjoy teaching through active participation, experiences, and objects,” said McAleer while motioning to items in his office: an antique White sewing machine in a perfectly preserved wooden cabinet; a 19th century copper fire extinguisher shined to the hilt; and a Victorian camera made of wood – the kind which requires its subjects to sit perfectly still for five minutes.

“It’s not easy holding a pose for five minutes while the rest of the class is trying to get you to laugh. We have a lot of fun with that assignment,” he said. The assignment gives McAleer’s students a new perspective when looking at photos from the past. Are the stiff-backed subjects in those photos stern, or just holding a difficult pose?

McAleer has formal training in African American History and Environmental History, with interests in The Cold War, Native American History, the Western U.S., and more. He moved from Georgia to Oregon in 1997 and spent much of the next decade teaching and traveling throughout the Northwest and Alaska as a field archeologist. “Field Archeology took me to some of the most wild and remote areas in the region.  A summer living in a tent in Alaskan bear country gives you a different perspective on things,” he said. 

In 2006, McAleer began at Linn-Benton as an adjunct instructor. He transitioned into a full-time faculty position in 2007. 

“I traveled with my family a lot as a kid. When I was 16, I took part in a three-week student exchange to the Soviet Union. That really instilled a curiosity about the world,” said McAleer. “A few months later the Berlin Wall came down and there was a feeling of being swept up in History as it was unfolding.”

Until the pandemic, McAleer was able to share his love of travel with students. He led a number of trips with LBCC students through the International Studies Co-Curricular Program. They traveled to academic conferences and study abroad trips to western and northern Europe and the United Kingdom. McAleer currently serves on a team that is working to build an official study abroad program at LBCC.

“It’s an exciting project. The team is committed to creating a range of experiences for our students. The goal is to bring a suite of opportunities to learn about the broader world. That may come through international travel, or domestic travel, or by bringing representatives from other cultures to LBCC in person or virtually. We want this to be accessible for every student.”

With his love of travel and previous life on the move, what keeps McAleer at Linn-Benton Community College?

“British psychologist John Bowlby believed that childhood is best organized as a series of adventures undertaken from a secure base.  I think it’s a great professional model, too,” explained McAleer. 

“LBCC is a perfect home base. It’s a dynamic place, and a place that supports continued professional growth. If you have an idea at LB, the odds are that you will find support for that endeavor,” he said.

McAleer finds joy in working with students from different backgrounds and with those who have not had a lot of training in history. Most of his students at LBCC are non-majors who take history courses to fulfill general requirements.  

“It’s fun for me to help people understand the past. My favorite part of the job,” he said, “is that I get one last crack at them to foster a sense of wonder about the past.” 

His students have been placed in political science internships with the state legislature, in museums, and in anthropology or archeology work with governmental organizations. Those who completed a history degree have gone on to become middle school or high school history teachers or to work in international development, nonprofits, or the law. Former students have even come full circle to become adjunct teaching faculty at LBCC.

“There is evidence that over your lifetime, humanities degrees pay off really well ... even substantially better than many other degrees/educational paths,” he said.

That may be because the study of history, as with other humanities disciplines, develops broad skill sets that are applicable to a wide range of educational and professional contexts.

“We teach people to think critically about the past and, in doing so, to develop their own interpretations,” he said.

“My goal is to get students to a place where they can use logic and evidence to draw their own conclusions. If they can carry these skills out into the world, then I feel like we’ve moved the ball down the field.”

To learn more about History and other humanities at LBCC visit the LBCC website and McAleer’s website.