Tuesday, September 28, 2010

American History Class

I just finished Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, the revised and updated version. Despite how much Loewen toots his own horn, it is a great book and I do recommend it to anyone interested in history and/or education.

Loewen bemoans not teachers at all, but the textbooks of American history courses. They gloss over extremely important events, focus on names and dates rather than technological advancements (few people realize how much of our culture exists today solely because of indoor heating, for example), blatantly lie about figures such as Christopher Columbus and Woodrow Wilson, and fade out optimistically after the obvious successful civil rights movement. Not to mention how huge these textbooks are, both burdening students and discouraging anything after WWII getting reached in a school year.

Up until middle school, my classmates and I loathed history class. The textbooks were outdated and were written at what was the high school level in the 70's. Lessons, homework and tests were entirely textbook-based with memorization of names and dates of only the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. This was partly because our teachers were nuts.

I was extremely lucky in getting Ms. B for middle school history. She focused very little on our updated textbooks and, instead, used a variety of effective and fun techniques. We had fantastic field trips, put on plays, made dioramas of violent events and all sorts of things deprived middle schoolers of the late 90's enjoyed. I was already an avid reader, so I researched topics covered in class (and thus converted away from Christianity...) and discovered both Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson. Ms. B was restricted from teaching even more nitty-gritty history by the corrupt and insecure administration of the school, to the point of declaring that the Holocaust killed all the Jews.

My high school American history class was awful due to a burnt-out teacher. The one thing he did right was assign us to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The next two history electives I took, one in high school and one in college, were both U.S. 20th Century History. My college art history classes focused more on art than history.

History class can be ridiculously fun! The only people I've met who don't like history are people who haven't seen how insane it is. If someone put a gun to my head and said “if you don't become a teacher, I'll kill you,” history is the only topic I would pick that wouldn't drive me nuts. American history, world history would make me chuck my desk out the window and flee into the forest. Even then, the first few months would be spent correcting previous class' mistakes!

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