Put the ‘Story’ Back in ‘History’
There’s a famous quote I hate that goes something along the lines of “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t recall who first said it and don’t really care enough to find out. All I know is that it’s crap. The saying brings a “for their own good” mentality to the subject, and I hate it when instructors adopt that kind of attitude about what they teach. This isn’t teaching the topic; it’s force-feeding. Force-feeding doesn’t inspire interest in a topic–it creates resentment toward it. I’m fairly convinced that most people’s disinterest in subjects such as history stems from this “for their own good” mentality.
The best example I can think of to demonstrate this mentality is the memorization of dates. Does anyone else remember being fed a constant stream of dates in their history classes? I sure do. And I remember the worst part being that our grades seemed to hinge on how well we absorbed and regurgitated these dates. I want to go on the record as saying dates are not that important in the study of history. They are meant as points of reference–nothing more. They tell us how long something took or when it happened in relation to something else. I don’t know when or why drilling students over something so relatively trivial became the norm in American academics, but I feel like it’s created a massive–and possibly irreparable–disconnect within the past several generations of students.
This strikes me as very sad, there is so much richness and depth to human history. So many fascinating figures with amazing stories. Stories that have been rendered inaccessible to the average student.
Throughout my schooling, I always felt that the history instructors I learned the most from were the ones who got up and told stories to the class. My eighth-grade teacher once told us about how his great-great-grandfather escaped a Confederate P.O.W. camp by swimming out through the camp cesspit. At BSU, my American History prof talked about his father’s WWII buddy who told him “war is the most fun you can have with your pants on… if you don’t die.” It was these anecdotes that meant the most to me in these classes. This was the kind of information my fellow students and I retained. And to really understand history this is what’s important.
*The above image is one I drew myself. It was for a coloring book, of sorts, that I drew for my godson, Paul, for his birthday. It should be full resolution, so feel free to print it off and color it yourself.