Since the fall of 2010, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with 40 middle school teachers as part of a three-year Teaching American History project. Funded by the federal Department of Education, the TAH grant program was created to encourage and support the teaching of American history.
We’ve spent our time tracing historical events through the 1800s and talking about how best to teach those events to 8th graders. And it’s been awesome. Great conversation. Useful lesson plans. Teaching materials. Famous authors. Primary sources. But suddenly, it’s almost over. We’re in the last four days of the project.
The best of times. The worst of times.
So while I’m documenting the sweet learning going on this week, it will be with a bit of a sad heart.
This week’s focus? Environmental History in the West.
We’ve got some great scholars this week – Mark Fiege with his The Republic of Nature, Elliott West of The Contested Plains, and Thomas Andrews with Killing for Coal. All incredible environmental / western historians. These guys define the phrase “history stud.” Read more
It’s been a great week so far with our Century of Progress summer session. We’re deep into Tim Bailey and Dr. Stephen Aron today. Yesterday, Dr. Matthew Booker finished up his time with an incredibly interesting discussion of the impact of the bison on the American West.
But before he left, Dr. Booker shared his vision of history and history teachers. It’s a view that I’ve not heard articulated quite this way before and so I’m paraphrasing it here:
History is the most important thing we can study. It is the most important thing my students will study. History speaks directly to the central problems and solutions of human existence. It teaches us that we are not the center of the universe. It humbles us.
It also affirms our existence. Nothing in our lives tells us that we matter more than the fact that we are connected to this web of human relationships.
History places us in a community of human beings which is vast and ancient and will continue into the future. History makes us aware that we are never alone. You are never alone if you think about the past. We are merely the latest in a long line of human beings who will continue into the future. And no other habit of mind has that power to make us feel connected. We feel that sense of connection when we look backward.
History both humbles us and affirms us.
What a great way to look at both history and our responsibilities for teaching it.