History is about stories - I remember feeling connected to the Yankees or Ford Motor Company because I watched a documentary about their history and what made them successful. It was in these stories that I felt a connection with these organizations. I have felt that with historical figures or events because they were presented as stories with really interesting details that connected to my interests. I read the book Nazi Seizure of Power and was fascinated by how Adolf Hitler was really able to rise to power and take over control of Germany's government. It wasn't magical, it was simply doing something all politicans and many people do to get what they want - they tell people what they want to hear.
While I could name numerous stories and events in history that I really found interesting there are so many more examples where history was presented in the most horrific manner- NOTES! In full disclosure I did this too often in the my career especially early in my career. I realize telling a good story requires having true mastery of the content to not only get the details correct but to make it engaging. That means adding the dramatic elements and finding the details that connect to the audience.
In my career I can think of at least two great examples of where I told a great story. One was when I was student teaching and my cooperating teacher and I took turns telling the story of Henry VIII and his marital exploits. I still remember talking about how each time his wife was unable to bear him a son he had them beheaded and we would strike a wooden stool with a leather axe. By the end of the day we had actually split the stool seat. Yes I know the details weren't completely accurate, but we created an experience the students will remember.
The other great story I will share is when I was teaching world history and we discusses the Inquisition. I created a short presentation with images of torture devices. With each slide I discussed how the device was used. Each time reminding students that people came up with this idea, others said, "Hey that's a great ideas." and then used it to promote their values. I spend lots of time discussing the concept of what people will do in the name of their beliefs and not condemning a specific religion, but do point out that this was done in the name of religion which condemns killing. The students are enthralled with the details and I have even had students ask to return to hear that story again. I love watching students reactions and it opens them up for a great conversation about beliefs and actions and the difference between ideology and reality.
Let's get back to the title. Why I Hate History! It really has two meanings. The first is from the sentiment I have heard from students or adults after they have left school. They say they didn't enjoy history, didn't like it, found it boring. Some will recall their experiences in school in a negative light, but now may find that watching a documentary, or reading a book about a person or event has helped them appreciate history. These individuals were not taught history as a subject connected to their world and their lives. The events of the past to them are so disconnected that it has no relevance.
The second perspective is my own dislike for history in the way it was taught to me as a future teacher and thus the fact that those bad methodologies carried over into my classroom early in my career. I had been taught and in turn started instructing students had to do with presenting history as lots of independent events that were fragmented with emphasis on details and not on concepts. Students would be tested on factoids, names, dates, etc. that really meant knowing to them. I would eventually learn to look at history as cause and effect, why is this important, how did that impact other events and lead to modern events. The transformation to my teaching continued as I started to see history not as events but as human behavior. When people say why is it important to study history and they respond history repeats itself, I take pause. History will not repeat itself, we will not have the same events happen over and over this isn't Groundhog's Day - Bill Murray movie reference check. I am not dismissing the sentiment entirely becasue history does repeat if we look at human behavior. We have always had struggles for power, quest for glory, and conflict to reach those ends. If we study history the science of human behavior then we can appreciate how connected events in history really are. We see the quest for global domination not just in Adolf Hitler but Alexander the Great and Roman Emperors like Julius Caesar.
I don't really hate history but I hate the way it is being taught by many. We need to discuss what is most important for our society to understand about history so they can become educated citizens of the world. They can problem solve, stand up and fight for their rights and freedoms and agains injustices around the world. We need to develop lessons that engage students in real world problem solving and development of critical thinking skills. The idea of thinking like a historian is to be a detective, to examine the evidence, contemplate its meaning and draw conclusions based on the evidence and what we know. To use this information to guide our future path. Our students can Google names, dates, places. They don't need to color maps to locate countries or physical features. They can use Google My Maps to create dynamic informational maps that contain exponentially more information that a colored and labeled piece of paper. Student's don't need to recite from memory the preamble of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence; they need to learn how to embody those sentiments and hold governments to those same expectations. We need to change the way we prepare social studies and history teachers education prep. If we want to create educated populous who question authority and status quo to make our world a better place we must start with those who present them with the past, present and potential future. Teacher prep needs to move from teachers being master's of content and truly inquiry guides. That doesn't mean teachers don't have an obligation to know their subject matter, but their knowledge of facts and figures won't match Google. Their knowledge needs to grow in building relationships, community and nurturing creativity and inqury.
-- Be the change you want to see in the world.