S h o r t F i c t i o n
/ E s s a y s
History (that is, as it comes packaged in
school classes) tends to be one of the sad casualties of these times. I
mean, very few people get charged up about the past from going through the
text, answering the questions at the end of the chapter and doing the
mental gymnastics necessary to memorize the requisite names and dates for the
test. Some short time down the road, most people do a brain dump, shaking
out said names and dates like old candy wrappers from a waste basket in
order to have room for the next class's temporary storage needs.
In spite of having put in a number of years in college and grad school, I
never really 'met' history until years later, after I'd started homeschooling my kids. Paul was supposed to study California history for
fourth grade (this was back when we still paid attention to the 'right'
curriculum for a given year), and as I skimmed through the old state text
I'd salvaged from a pile of giveaway books, I knew for certain that Paul,
a devoted reader, would no more be enticed by this stuff than a kid who's
been served a plate of sawdust while everyone around him gets pizza.
I started through the material, looking for the main points (the story,
really), and after much searching, knee-deep in the aforementioned names
and dates, I found it. California history became a story we recited, a
one-thing-leads-to-another tale that made sense and that, hence, was easy
I discovered the importance of good metaphor in teaching. I poked into
Roman history and began to realize that history is simply human nature
played out over and over on a huge canvas. Eventually we discovered
British techno-historian James Burke's original 'Connections'
series--wonderful, fascinating stuff that filled in the answers to the
'why' questions I suddenly realized I'd been carrying around for years.
The boys--all four of them--are History Channel junkies. Without any
directives from me, they've learned much more than I did in all my years
of school. It's been a simple matter of discovery (and it's amazing the
difference in retention between things you have to do and things
you get to do.) They can explain what the Maginot Line is, tell you
what went wrong in World War II, discuss the evolution of weaponry or the
motivations of the Vikings. Better yet, they're absorbing history's
lessons and applying them to what they see going on today. They recognize
the parallels, they know the trends and where they're likely to
lead... because they know where they've led in the past.
Also, thankfully, they never learned to think of history as a plate of
sawdust. If only school classes in history could be presented in a way
that's equally compelling. How much history would we not be doomed to
repeat if people were to truly absorb the lessons of the past?
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