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Teaching History

The history classes offered in the schools I attended as a child never understood what it meant to engage students. History class each year was the typical "dates and dead people" affair, with memorization forming the highlight of everyone's studies. Did anyone retain any of that material for long? No. None of us made a personal connection with what we were being taught. We really did not care what date any war was fought or which event occurred first; history was so remote from the context of our lives that we viewed it as extraneous, uninteresting, and largely useless.

As James Loewen and Mary Louise Pratt indicate, however, history classes do not need to be this way. Both authors understand that history is not dates and dead people, too remote from us today to be of any interest; instead, it is an extension of who we are today. We can reach back in thought from today to someone like us two centuries ago or more and make a connection that renders history real for us. The way history ought to be taught is to depict time as a continuum of which both all of the historical figures and events are a part-one that we too are a part of at a different point on the continuum. Moreover, history should be related to us where we are today in ways that are meaningful, not presented as isolated incidents that bear no relation to who we are today. History is neverending, an ongoing unfolding of events and conditions that we are living in right now. It can be compared to a sea of people that continues to move forward, stumbling over challenges and surging ahead with innovation. It is alive and relevant, and it needs to be taught that way, with passion, insight, and truthfulness.

Loewen contends that history teachers who "bring in controversies and primary-source material and challenge students to think" are in the minority, and he is correct (332). He points out that our society is full of myths and that t


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Teaching History. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:35, May 24, 2020, from