In the Classroom: The Critical Importance of Teaching and Learning History

The people in the country now who are spouting hate-filled words don’t seem to know their own American history. There is enough blame to go around as to why. But when it comes to fixing what’s wrong with America, one of our priorities should be making more of an effort to put our history into our classrooms in the earliest years, and to educate our teachers, too. I want all of our people—even the haters—to know why we have needed that armor and how we can, while wearing it, remain open to one another.

That is from Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s TALKING TO YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT TRUMP, WITH LESSONS FROM GWEN IFILL, an article that resonated with me because I’ve always thought teaching and learning history is so important*. Young people need time in school to engage with the past, grapple with it in all its complexities, and develop their own tools to think historically. While I use fiction and nonfiction children’s books in my teaching of history, I also use primary sources, and structure experiences for my 4th grade students to be  historians themselves. For example, right now they are completing a study of the Europeans who came through Ellis Island in 1900. Next they will be considering those who came from China through Angel Island before and during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After reading books, studying photographs and other primary sources, they will take a position on the statement often bandied about at the time that, “Angel Island is the Ellis Island of the West” and defend it with reasons and evidence. (Spoiler: they always say it wasn’t.)

*I’ve written two books (Seeking History and Far Away and Long Ago) on the teaching of history, articles (some listed here) and done presentations on the topic.

 

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