Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hooking Them While They're Young

Over at Betsy's Page there is an excellent discussion about teaching history in schools. She references this article from the Washington Post regarding David McCullough's recent Senate testimony on history education.

I believe one of the "missing links" in history education in U.S. schools is our schools are generally not teaching history from Kindergarten on; they give the children the odd Lincoln or King holiday lesson, but otherwise history doesn't come up until they hit "Social Studies" in 4th grade. If you teach "history as a story," as McCullough advocates, you can interest children at a very young age, rather than having them be wary of history as something difficult only studied by older children.

This lack needs to be addressed both in schools and at home. For instance, when I realized my older daughter was not being taught history in public elementary school, I began supplementing her reading and filling in that gap myself. There are many resources available for parents to meet this need outside school hours -- and if you make it fun, such as reading time with your children, they won't feel it's "extra work." For my younger children, I chose a homeschool curriculum which begins teaching history in Kindergarten. It's their favorite subject!

Schools could improve the situation by tying history in across the curriculum starting in elementary school -- for instance, children who are learning to read could be reading history rather than some of the poor-quality readers currently being used.

At the high school level, history teachers should have actually studied the history they're teaching, rather than meeting their credentialing requirements with sociology courses or the like. A teacher who knows and loves his subject can be a great inspiration -- my best teacher was my high school U.S. history teacher, and he had more than a little to do with my choice to major in History in college. On the other hand, a teacher who is poorly educated and doesn't care enough to immerse himself in his subject (whether it's history or any other area) can do great damage to his students' enthusiasm. Our family has seen both ends of the teaching spectrum.


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