February 2, 2012

Why History?

After her third grade standardized test Maria got very angry with me about how much history I teach in comparison to what she was expected to know.  She came out of the test saying mom they only asked me what these three men had in common (they were all presidents of the US) otherwise it was graphs, charts, and reading so why do you make me learn all this history?

I don't teach to the tests, I teach what I want them to learn and what I think will make them a better life long learner and person.  This means I teach a lot of history in addition to reading, writing, math, and science.  Those would probably be the priorities in our house.  Of course we still do spelling, grammar, geography, vocabulary, logic, music, art, pe and other standard lessons.  But when push comes to shove if we are down to the things I spend a lot of time on as a teacher the first 5 subjects are it.

My kids probably feel like we do more history because it is the one subject I read aloud to the younger two and I always engage in extensive conversation and question/answer sessions.  It is something that will come up sometimes when we drive in the car or talk over dinner.  We often tie current events back to historical ones and try to name the similar patterns.

I teach history chronologically and worldwide from nomads to modern.  We use Story of the World for two complete four year cycles and then move to different texts depending on the topics.  I stop when we come to the American Revolution and spend about 2 full months on this time period and follow American history then through the Civil War before returning to world history.

I teach my kids to spot the patterns in history and understand the common motivations for certain events.  My kids can tell you the main reasons people go to war throughout history and sometimes when we are reading about a time in history they will stop me and say "I know where this is going" and then predict the wars and the causes for them.  We spend a lot of time talk about inventors and how they spotted problems in the world that needed a solution and then worked to find them.  I challenge my kids to think about their world and spot problems that we need new inventions to fix and try to brainstorm themselves on possible ways to fix the problems.

I make them read historical biographies during their summer reading. We talk about the common traits in some of the worlds greatest inventors, scientists and historical leaders.  We discuss how we might approach a world problem if we were forced to lead a country to make a decision.  We do this from the time they are in second grade with the complexity of answers and my expectations increasing as they age and learn more. 

I did not love history until high school, it was all just memorizing names and dates and events I did not care about.  Then  I had a teacher who would not let us use textbooks in our class and she told history like a story.  She did not care much about particular dates as long as we could place things along a rough timeline and understood the story arc of history.  This clearly had a lasting impact on me :)  When I headed to college I majored for some of the time in political science mostly because I have always been drawn to the political leaders and systems throughout history. Even my modern classes seemed to always draw me back to the historical roots and patterns to see where we came from, how we got where we are and predict where we are likely to go and a reasonable guess at the outcome.   I ended up going different directions for the remainder of college and graduate school but a part of me always still loved history.

I read presidential biographies for fun :)  I read historical fiction as an escape.  I enjoy political thrillers.  I still like history.  So I suppose that influences the way I teach it.  I also truly believe that history repeats itself in predictable and patterned ways and it helps to understand the past to understand the present and predict the future.

Just last week we discussed why the Canadian separation from England went so different from the American one, as it came after the American Revolution and had all the lessons learned from that to be considered.  When we discuss the years of civil rights abuses in our country we discuss how our treatment of black Americans was different than the treatment of the Jewish people in Germany.  We discuss similarities and differences and how history often can teach us to make better choices if we listen.  We discuss the main causes of war and conflict often and my kids understand battles over resources, ideology, and power better than most their age and even many older than them. 

I teach history so much because I believe it is important and it will affect my kids for the rest of their lives.  The lessons they learn through the stories of history will help them in whatever career or life path they chose for themselves later.  Just as it is important for them to read and write and understand numbers, they need to understand where we came from and all that the past can teach us so we can move forward in the future.  That is why I spend so much time on history.

This blog post is probably not much shorter than the answer I gave my third grader back when she asked why and includes many of the same reasons I gave her :)  You would think that would stop my kids from asking me why :)  I love that my long answers encourage rather than discourage my kids and that they truly are curious about the world around them.  They have a deep desire to understand the reasons we make the decisions we do and how our choices can affect not just ourselves but those around us.  They are starting to look at the world around them and wonder how they can make it better themselves. This I believe comes out of learning history the way we do. 

1 comment:

  1. i like to see that you are writing with more frequency (smile). Its nice to travel on over here and read. thank you