As someone studying social sciences education, history is clearly something I value and find important. However, in my experience, especially in high school, I felt that my English teachers taught me more history than my actual history teachers.
After many conversations with different people, I know I’m not alone in feeling this.
So, what’s up with this?
While I don’t blame my history teachers for this, I do blame the required curriculum. So much has to be covered in history classes that it’s all so surface level. It’s unfair to the deeper learning that students are missing out on.
I essentially learned dates and names in history. In my English classes, we read non-fiction history pieces like “Farewell to Manzanar,” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, about Japanese internment camps after WWII.
We read “Night,” by Elie Wiesel, about the Holocaust and Auschwitz concentration campus.
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck which, while fiction, gave insight into our culture and our ideals of the American Dream and how we, as a nation, suffered during The Great Depression.
I know I learned more from those books than I did my history classes.
In my American History course, we had one slide over the Japanese internment camps.
That was the only time they were addressed in any history classes over my high school career. In reading “Farewell to Manzanar,” we learned what life was like in the internment camps.
It was so much more impactful and educational than that one slide.
I genuinely feel like I learned more just by reading those books than having dates and names shoved down my throat that I eventually forgot after my test.
So how can we change this?
I want to be a history teacher in a high school one day, and I want to be able to change the way we approach history and the way it is taught.
Changing the focus and emphasis is one way to start. As important as dates and names are, you don’t really learn anything from knowing them.
You learn from knowing the experiences tied to those dates and names and understanding why they’re important. I remember understanding and feeling the experiences that the people felt.
I know history classes love to use textbooks, but maybe we also start requiring more in-depth, non-textbook readings. We need more firsthand accounts and primary resources in our history classes at a younger age.
Or maybe, the solution is English teachers and history teachers planning together to create the greatest impact on students. If we’d done our WWII unit in history at the same time we read “Farewell to Manzanar,” it would’ve created the biggest impact on students. It would’ve allowed better discussion and a deeper understanding of the atrocities that were committed.
George Santayna said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
People are already forgetting about the Holocaust, the Japanese Internment Camps and Segregation. I’m fearful for what we’ll repeat if we don’t change the way we teach students about history.