I never liked history classes until I got to college.
My freshman year in college I had a professor who made the subject fascinating and relevant.
Until then I had only been taught American history, and it was taught as a series of dates; most of them relating to military conflicts. Passing history class meant memorizing the dates and what happened when. It was a viewpoint of political and military facts instead of the human story.
It’s the human story that makes history fascinating. The human story shows how history impacts our lives today and has gotten us to where we are.
There is much debate and dissent in the news these days about what history is being taught and how its being taught. Diverse groups of people demand it be taught from the perspective that interests them. It is disrupting to schools, worrisome and angering to parents, and it even is affecting the outcomes of political elections.
To me that debate and dissent is futile. History itself is so vast there is no way it can be taught, regardless of perspective, with any depth of meaning during a typical school experience.
Learning about history is your personal responsibility. Seeing that children learn about history is the parents responsibility . . . and the grandparents or any other adults who are in a child’s life.
History sections at libraries and bookstores should be places you visit regularly. Or download books about history on your e-readers. Dover Press has lots of fun history activity books for kids. Watch documentaries and dramatizations of historical events on TV and streaming channels. Go to movies that dramatize and present historic events. Attend lectures at galleries, museums, universities, and civic organizations.
Choose the history categories you want to know more about. Read everything you can find about them. Educate yourself. Don’t complain that no one ever taught it to you. When I was in the 6th grade my Dad took me to the movies to see Gone With the Wind. It was my first exposure to the American Civil War. Sure it was drama, but it made me understand and got me interested in wanting to know more.
Before the film The Imitation Game was released, I never knew about Alan Turing who broke the Enigma Code in WWII saving millions of lives. Until I read Lilac Girls I had never heard of Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who worked tirelessly to provide a new life for victims of Nazi experiments done at the Ravensbruck Concentration camp.
The book Code Name Helene introduced me to the Australian, Nancy Wake, who became a leader in the French Resistance in WWII, saving the lives of refugees and allied troops. None of that gets taught in history class.
On the History Channel The Food that Built America is a fascinating look into the evolution and origins of foods in our culture. The “Built” series of shows on the History Channel tells about the innovators and risk takers who changed the world in The Men Who Built America, The Machines that Built America, even The Toys that Built America.
In 1987 I was head of marketing for Continental Press, a publisher of educational workbooks and readers. They published two workbooks that contained short stories about the contributions of Black Americans to every aspect of American culture, history, and society.
Through them I learned about the explorer, Matthew Henson, who went on seven voyages to the Arctic with Robert Peary, and was fascinated by Marcus Garvey, a publisher, journalist and entrepreneur in the 1920s and 30s. I read about Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator, humanitarian, and activist who was a national advisor to FDR and got black women commissioned as officers in the Women’s Army Corps during WWII. So many fascinating stories!
In a college Music History class I learned that the four movements of a symphony were created to conform to a standard pattern in the 18th century. I also learned that 200 years later the rock group Iron Butterfly followed that symphonic pattern in their 1968 album In-Agadda-Da-Vida – a rock classic selling over 30 million copies.
History, regardless of the category, is always relevant.
There are six categories of history. Political, Social, Cultural, Economic, Intellectual, and Diplomatic. There are sub-categories of history, such as Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. The pathways to learning history are as diverse as the categories of history itself.
As we enter Black History Month it’s a good time to realize that the responsibility to explore and discover history is an individual one. History is so vast there is no way the educational systems, from Kindergarten to College, can ever cover the scope of it. If you really want to learn the facts and impact about any category of history, explore … discover … and teach yourself.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”Marcus Garvey
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