The history class I want to take

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The history class I want to take

 

In Morgan Robertson’s fictional novel “Futility,” a fascinating story unfolds of an indomitable ocean liner called the “Titan,” which strikes an uncanny parallel to another famous vessel by a similar name. 

Robertson’s tale describes his Titan as the biggest, most luxurious ship of its time. Most significantly, it was deemed “unsinkable.” 

Obviously, the late novelist was writing about the Titanic, right? After all, his fictional Titan was the same size and length as the Titanic, both vessels could travel up to 25 knots and both could carry up to 3,000 people. 

If that’s not enough, both ships were on their very first voyages, traveling from Southampton to New York, and both struck icebergs one cold April night in exactly the same spot of the North Atlantic, plummeting similarly to an oceanic grave. 

But the eeriness of it all only takes hold when one realizes that the author’s fabled episode was written in 1898 — the real Titanic set sail 14 years later! 

History is full of such mystery, and this is the spark that gives it such wonder and intrigue. Ironically, this is also the spark that is often missing from history textbooks. 

Small wonder, then, if a kid goes through school with little or no interest in history (like I did). Even less surprising if our young people roll over in subservient ignorance when the politically correct thought-police come along and systematically trash those Dead White European Males. Kill history in the schools and not only does literacy get extinguished but our future is up for grabs as well. 

While there have been many changes in education over the past several decades (for good and for ill), in some circles the biggest thing changing about the teaching of history is the history we teach. 

By the time so many of our nation’s universities get through “reprogramming” our future teachers and rewriting the history books, we’ll be lucky if succeeding generations know anything at all about the Mayflower Compact or our Founding Fathers. What needs to change is not what we teach in history, but how we teach it. 

Teaching history the way it begs to be taught would be like coming off one of those hideous diets and going out to eat a sumptuous meal at some smorgasbord. Up in Cody, the history smorgasbord waiting for our students resides in treasures like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Old Trail Town. In Laramie, it’s “the Big House,” one of Wyoming’s oldest buildings and three-year residence to the infamous Butch Cassidy; in Cheyenne, it’s the historic Governor’s Mansion, home to 19 Wyoming governors.  

Outside of Dubois is the National Museum of Military Vehicles, while near Thermopolis, there is the Dinosaur Center and Dig Site, one of the largest fossil collections in the world. From the natural wonder of Devil’s Tower of northeastern Wyoming to the legendary “Hole-in-the-Wall” of the Big Horn Mountains, the opportunities are endless and riveting. 

The best way to teach history is hinted at in the word itself: history is a story, so it is communicated best through storytelling. It is dramatic, so it is often best learned through drama and theater. History documents the human experience, so video-documentaries would emerge as a staple in this model. And history is our collective memory, yesterday’s news, so personal memoirs and today’s newspapers would be ideal for relating the past to the present. 

But best of all, history is replete with mystery, so a good history lesson would be laced with the inexplicable, the unbelievable, and the mystical. 

This doesn’t mean there would be no scope-and-sequence, that every teacher would teach whatever, whenever. It just means the teacher would use different tools, sharper tools. It means we would trade in the canned and cloned for the real thing, that we’d get out of the classroom and teach through travel. We’d read biographies, read real letters and have real World War II veterans tell our students about MacArthur, Pearl Harbor or trench warfare. 

Our public libraries would be viewed as gold mines and we’d have our students visit them more than once or twice a year. And the inevitable consequences would be a generation of young people who not only know their history, but who are captivated by its infinite treasures and profound mysteries.   

That is a history class I want to take. That is a history class I want to teach.

— Brian Schroeder

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