Betsy Newmark wrote yesterday – and exceedingly well – on the issue of American History and how our students are being so severely shortchanged by the “social studies” curriculum of the last 30 years. You’ll want to read all her thoughts on the issue, but I loved this part:
Instead, the classes became endless exercises in coloring in maps and labeling tables of exports from various countries. The study of Russia involves a lesson coloring in a picture of St. Basil’s Cathedral and eating pirozhki. The kids can rattle off names like Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great but they don’t know anything about these people. I haven’t taught Russian history, but I’d start a lesson showing Ilya Repin’s magnificent painting of Ivan the Terrible right after he’d killed his own son. Show the kids that painting of a father who has just realized what he’s done and they’ll be clamoring to know more about him and why he was called “terrible.” Sure, they can look at a map but who cares if they can identify the outline of every country in Europe if they don’t know why that geography is important – how Poland’s history has been affected because they are a flat country stuck between Germany and Russia or how England’s destiny was different because it was an island that hasn’t been invaded successfully since 1066.
Betsy’s contention is that teachers of history should be people who love history – teachers of math should be people who love math. When you love the subject you are teaching, you will ignite your students with by the fire of your own passion!
History classes should be the most interesting ones in the school, but too many times those classes are the dullest. McCullough is right – get teachers who loved history so much that they majored in it college. Hire people who in their spare time read books about history for fun.
I SO agree!