I suppose there’s a fair dose of irony in that headline, since teaching is my full-time job, and I do love it. But it is hard to turn off the writer, and it’s not even possible. (at least for me) So as I was re-writing my US History syllabus for this year, it struck me how lucky I am. I was able to completely re-design my history course to best suit my students and learning environment. I’m not sure how many teachers have such freedom. What it enabled me to do was to be creative in my approach and stop lecturing, allowing the students “to do” history. It was a lot of fun when I did it last year, and I’m doing it again this year. Here’s the section from the syllabus of what I’m trying to accomplish. I think it’s pretty cool. Does it sound like a history class you would enjoy?
Why read a textbook about slavery when you can read a vivid chapter from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?
Why listen to a teacher take about Andrew Carnegie when we can watch the empire he built through gripping state-of-the-art engaging videos?
Why have a student take notes about Jim Crow laws when they can research and present for themselves how they understand them?
These three questions, and many else like them have re-fueled my love for teaching US History. (Or perhaps I just got sick of hearing my own voice every year)
I’m more excited than ever to see history come alive. It’s not a group of static words sitting in the back corner of a library. History is alive. Our understanding of history is always changing. New discoveries and analyses continue to defy the conventional wisdom. We continue to learn and understand how the past has shaped us.
So my goal for this class is for students “to do” history. How will that take place? By reading original documents and readings which will change our perspectives of the time periods well beyond a contrite paragraph in a history book. We’ll be reading selections from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “Up from Slavery”, and “Black Like Me”, among others.
We will be watching engaging films like “Amistad” and high-tech documentaries like “The Robber Barons.” This is high drama stuff! No sleeping here!
And we’ll be putting the learning back into the hands of the students, guiding them on incredible journeys of history, where they will be researching, creating, and presenting what they have been learning to others.
The overall objective of the course is to create a hands-on environment where history comes alive, where we can conjecture and give opinions, where we can argue and have fun, all the while better understanding where we came from.
This is my goal. Let’s hope we can accomplish it.
s is my goal. Let’s hope we can accomplish it.