Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How We "Do" History...Part 1

I love history.  I love the adventure, the romance, and the mystery of what happened long, long ago.  I remember devouring every historical biography I could find in our elementary library, starting with women like Betsy Ross and Martha Washington, and then moving on to the men like Patrick Henry and George Washington Carver.  I would rather watch a good History Channel documentary than a new Hollywood blockbuster.  (Have you seen AMC's new series, Turn?  Three episodes in and I'm hooked.)

I drive Gerald crazy when we travel.  I want to know who Edmund Pettus is and why he has a bridge named after him.  (Look it up. You might be surprised at the irony.)  I do most of the driving, including driving Gerald crazy asking him to Google names on his phone as we ride along.  He complains, but his options are Google or drive.  I can't do both!  What did I do before cell phones with wifi?  Learned a lot less on the fly, I'll assure you.
 
As much as I love history, I remember a World Civilization class my sophomore year of college that absolutely made my eyes glaze over.  It's not that I didn't find ancient civilizations interesting, it's just that trying to remember names and dates that span several thousand years can be, well, overwhelming.  OK - it can be downright aggravating.  And unnecessary.  (And this is from a former junior high history teacher.)

I want less of this...

 
I think this is why so many people dislike the study of history.  And let's be honest, when was the last time a mother lode of historical names and dates saved your bacon?  "OK, Mrs. Jones - name the first three major Chinese dynasties and we'll waive your copay for this visit."  What I have gained from my love of history is a contextual understanding of world events.  I may not be able to tell you exactly when he was born, but I do know enough to tell you that Leif Erikson was a Viking and was known for exploring North America 500 years prior to Columbus (and not for the 1970's hit song "I Was Made For Dancing"). 

My point is, I think that requiring children (and adults) to remember thousands of names and dates is unrealistic.  Instead, I want my children to be introduced to people whose adventures and accomplishments will make an impression on them.  I want them to read and imagine and be inspired by those who paved the way.  Those who explored.  Those who dared to stand up.  Those whose very existence changed the world (for better or worse), not because their names are in a history book, but because they lived history.  If they can just meet these characters in an exciting and non-exasperating manner, then, hopefully, they will discover their own love for history.

And more of this!



I know this is really outside the comfort zone of a lot of people.  Can kids possibly make it into college if they can't regurgitate the names of each and every U.S. president?  Can they be successful adults if they can't recite the Declaration of Independence?  (Hello.  Those of us who grew up in the 70's and 80's can actually sing the Preamble to the Constitution, but I bet that's due to Schoolhouse Rock and not a high school civics class!)  And, yes, your child can become a functioning adult, even without the ability to recite (in order) the conquests of Alexander the Great.  Don't get me wrong.  I want my kids to know about old Alex, but I don't want to bog them down with the unnecessary memorization of dates and places.  That's what the internet is for.  Seriously.   

Think about this.  I would much rather spend my time exploring people and places, events and ideas.  Not memorizing.  We can cover so much more ground when we let go of the "drill and kill" idea.  I realize I'm preaching to the choir as there are many, many, homeschoolers out there who are to the "left" of me, so to speak.  I'll admit it, I am usually a rather scheduled and traditional-minded schoolmarm.  However, I think there is a big difference between math and grammar (which are both necessary to real-world success!) vs. history. 

My over-all plan is this.  I want my children to have a broad introduction to world history, a deeper understanding of American History, a great pride and hands-on experience with Alabama History, and a working knowledge of American Civics in order to exercise their rights and execute their responsibilities.

So, all that being said, how do we "do" history?  Well, later this week, I'll tell you about a history curriculum I have added and how I plan to schedule our history studies.  Don't worry...there won't be a pop-quiz, so be sure to come on back!
 
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