Why History Education needs Improvement

I must admit, history was by far my least favorite subject when I went to school. Memorizing a bunch of names, dates and events was boring. What did it have to do with me?

It wasn’t until I was forced to take a history course in college, that I realized how truly interesting the subject could be. The teacher was engaging. He raised thought provoking questions and placed historical events in a context that related to current events or issues that each student faced on a day to day basis.

I wish that when I was in secondary school, I would have had a teacher that made me think, not memorize. One that caused me to react, not withdraw. As an adult, I realize now that history is a rerun that has been viewed all too many times. It’s a way to learn from our mistakes and make changes so that we may finally get it right. It’s Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

Students would be far better off being placed in the situations of the subjects that they are meant to learn. I’ve often thought of how I would teach high school history, if it were my job

Maybe one day I’d announce to my class that I had just received a large raise. I’d then hand them an official document, purportedly from the principal, that informed them that they each needed to bring an extra dollar every day to school and leave it in the Principal’s office. It was the Principal’s position, the document would proclaim, that my class was the primary beneficiary of my educational expertise and that they should, therefore, be the ones that should subsidize my newfound wealth.

I’d ask them how they felt about that note. Did they think it was fair that they would be asked to pay out of their own pockets for the extra benefit of me being their teacher? What would they do if they didn’t want to pay it? I would then go on to explain the Stamp Act of 1765. Could they now relate to how the colonists felt?

How would they feel if the next week, they were told to bring another extra dollar (now $2.00) to the Principal’s office each morning because of the new paint that the school had just applied to the walls and the week after that to add yet another dollar for a retirement party for the school librarian? They hadn’t been asked if they thought I deserved a raise. They weren’t consulted about whether the school needed a new coat of paint. They may not even like the librarian!

How would they feel about that? Could they understand how things like the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townshend Acts led to the final straw when the colonials were asked to pay yet another tax for tea? Did they get why the Boston Tea Party occurred? Did they now understand the outrage the colonists felt in regards to taxation without representation?

I cannot think of a single historical instance that could not be presented to students in a way that, not only would they remember, but would invoke passionate feelings about the events themselves. I wonder how many teachers out there are trying to relate their lessons to their students, rather than trying to cram relatively useless data into their heads. I wonder how many students would look forward to learning if they only had the perspective to relate to the material.

I thank that college professor for giving me the new-found appreciation for history. I only hope that a classroom of students somewhere is rushing to their secondary school history class, eager to participate in another engaging activity that will help them gain an appreciation for the past, present and future.