Sunday, December 19, 2010

History and How It's Taught

I recently watched Band of Brothers with my daughters and it got me thinking about how we teach history in schools. My youngest daughter is one of the typical kids who says, "I hate history. It's boring." My oldest daughter appreciates it a bit more, but only certain periods. World War II is not one of them. Both of them, however, really enjoyed this series and it's not hard to understand why.

Band of Brothers is about people.

It seems a bit silly to say that, but think of how history is typically taught. Lots of dates. Lots of big picture events. When students learn about people they are larger than life characters that are hard to relate to (think George Washington crossing the Delaware River or Alexander conquering much of the known world. We read about giants of history who seem to have little in the way of human flaws and we don't hear much about what life was like for the average person.

Now, dorks like me are still fascinated by all of this stuff, but the typical person is not. They need it to be more personal, to seem more relevant. And that's okay; we can do that. The problem is that the people teaching history are typically closer to my temperament and can't understand why anyone wouldn't be excited by studying troop movements in World War I. If students got to read more about "real" people, the people taking part in these events and learning about ways their lives may have been similar to their own and how they are different, I guarantee many more of them would be engaged. We also need to make the towering figures of the past more real. Instead of pretending the Founding Fathers were pinnacles of humankind, point out things like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, George Washington grew marijuana, John Adams wouldn't wear dentures and spoke with a lisp.

Granted, the big picture stuff is important, but most kids aren't going to care about it if teachers can't make it real, can't connect the kids with it on a more personal level. It doesn't take a movie to do this, but it does take better textbooks than we typically have and teachers willing to understand that history needs to come down to a smaller level to get kids interested.

No comments: