"Kings are the slaves of history." - Leo Tolstoy
The "Great Man" view of history fell out of fashion after WWII. It holds that history is created by a series of heroes, geniuses, and villains, and that learning history is simply learning a series of biographies.
Herbert Spencer, famous for coining the term "survival of the fittest," formulated the counterargument: that heroes are the products of their own time periods, or zeitgeist. Leo Tolstoy supported this view of history throughout War and Peace, pointing out that great leaders, or kings, are slaves to the forces of their times.
The Zeitgeist view of history is probably the more accurate one, and it has influenced the teaching of history for the past several decades; knowledge of basic history during this time period among high school graduates has plummeted.
A quick look at non-fiction bestseller lists is revealing: it is stuffed with the biographies of influential heroes (and scoundrels) throughout history. It is the same with TV programs that deal with history: the Great Man view of history is alive and well in the private sector.
The debate should be moot to high school history teachers. What matters is what is more easily learned. Physicists don't mind that students learn the structure of the atom from a wildly inaccurate diagram. Teaching is not about telling the truth - at first.
Like many things in education, there is no real debate here. The history curriculum could easily start with the Great Man view, and then move into the more subtle Zeitgeist view as the students get older and more sophisticated.
But starting with the Zeitgeist view will bore them to death.
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.