I keep waiting for someone to tell me why an 11-year-old should be interested in the economic system of ancient Rome.
Or why a 13-year-old should care about the War of 1812.
How much do you know about the War of 1812?
Has that held you back at all?
Me neither, and I’m a history teacher.
We teach history in the wrong direction. We start with the past and work forward.
We need to turn around.
We start off teaching social studies well.
In kindergarten we teach about the thing immediately around the child, the family and the classroom.
In first grade kids learn about the neighborhood and in second the larger community.
In third grade kids learn about the various countries in the modern world.
Then it stops making sense.
In 4th grade NY students learn all about NY, from the earliest Iroquois days forward. Fifth grade that expands to the early explorers of Canada, Mexico and the rest of the North American land mass.
Sixth grade starts with studies of three countries in the eastern hemisphere, usually only Asian countries are included because the next unit is on ancient Egypt and the rest of the year is spent in ancient Rome, Mesopotamia and more, ending up somewhere around the Renaissance.
The seventh and 8th grade curriculum, my current assignment, is American history.
In 7th we start with the native civilizations before Europeans arrive and are supposed to get through the Civil War.
Eighth grade is supposed to start with Reconstruction and end somewhere around 1976.
Here’s one idea. 7thgrade American history should start in 2010 and work backwards to try to unravel how we got into our current miasma. By the end of 8th grade we should have worked our way back to Columbus’ “discovery.”
But even that isn’t optimal. I object to teaching history as a linear series of events whichever way we run through time.
History is not about time or events; it is about ideas and how people deal with conflicting ones.
Ideas excite people, even 8th grade inner-city students. Ideas have meaning to them that dates, names and events do not.
I don’t want to follow a curriculum map.
I want to explore with my students as they discover the themes and ideas that make their life what it is and try to figure out how those patterns can be changed so their lives improve.
I want to help them make their world make sense.
Maybe then I’ll understand mine.