On “hurried history.”

Tuesday’s Daily Herald featured an article which caught my eye. It was about how local history teachers manage a particular problem, which is that history never ends. Teachers thus have to decide what historical events and trends should be taught and how deeply they should be examined. A lot of important and/or interesting information is bound to be left out.

The year I taught history, I didn’t accomplish what I’d hoped in terms of scope or depth of material. (However, I did accomplish what I’d hoped in terms of AP bonus money BWAH HAH HAH.) The front end of the AP United States History course begins at 1607. Since I felt compelled to address pre-1607 history, on the first day of class I covered everything starting from 12,800,000,000 B.C. or 3760 B.C. (take your pick) through the founding of Jamestown in about 15 minutes.

Even worse, due partly to my inexperience in teaching the course, we went over the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in just two class periods at the end of April. We barely touched on Watergate, or Carter, or Reagan. In fact, we didn’t get to Bush 41, or Clinton, or the Eugenics Wars, or me, or the Captain Trips pandemic.

Anyhow, the article mentions a few ways to deal with the problem: treating the course as a survey, teaching the course thematically, or teaching earlier history in grade school and later history in high school (specifically, “axing the colonial years from high school syllabi with the assumption it’s already been covered in middle school”).

I emphatically disagree with the “axing” approach. Say you learn “History Part One” in elementary school, “History Part Two” in middle school, and “History Part Three” in high school. Never mind whether you even remember the events of “Part One” by the time you get to high school– how deep can your understanding of those events be in 4th or 5th grade?

I think that the same basic timeframe of history should be taught in elementary school, middle school, and high school, but in greater depth each successive time. The lower the grade level is, the more simple and direct the information should be: “The colonists broke away from England in 1776. Jefferson wrote the Declaration. Madison wrote the Constitution.Washington was the first President.” The higher grade levels should have the same scope, but should feature more details and develop a more sophisticated understanding: “In many respects, American colonists had grown independent of Britain over a decade prior to the Revolutionary War. Jefferson echoed Locke in the Declaration. Madison had to balance Montesquieu’s ideal of separated branches against the need for a more effective federal government. Washington molded and helped to legitimize the Presidency.”

Assuming we don’t discover a way to make history stop–and I have people working on it, don’t worry–high school curricula should be changed to include two consecutive years of world (lame, boring) history and American (fun, awesome) history. The typically-required U.S. government and civics course could easily be incorporated into the American history courses. This would add greater scope and detail to history courses, improve students’ command of history, and give me more time to delve into important topics like the development and impact of the “46 Defense.”

This is really, really, really cool.

4 Responses to “On “Hurried History.””

  1. aabrock Says:
    May 18th, 2006 at 9:38 AM

I think you make a solid argument here. I for one remember taking a year long course of South Carolina history in 7th grade, and as I moved up it seemed the scope of the history classes got larger (SC to US, US to Europe, Europe to Western Civ, Western Civ to World). Seems counter-intuitive, as student age vs. detailed information to teach seems inversely proportional here.

But world history lame? The most interesting class I remember was European History (otherwise known as “War, what is it good for?”).

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    May 20th, 2006 at 1:27 PM

But Optimus Prime is supposed to be red. I’m offended.

  1. PaxonGator Says:
    May 25th, 2006 at 7:53 PM

We covered stuff before Jamestown?

  1. VDV Says:
    May 25th, 2006 at 8:47 PM

Like I said, it took about 15 minutes on the first day.