Monday, January 17, 2011

This Isn't The History I Learned - Thankfully!

Today is Martin Luther King Junior Day. The wee ones both came home this past week talking about him. They knew who he was, and approximately what he did (although Little Miss thought he freed the slaves).

Honestly, I was surprised that they were being taught this in school already. When I was their age, I'd never heard of him. And when I did first hear about him, I knew just the bare minimum. Little Miss's principal is encouraging every student to memorize his "I Have A Dream" speech and to understand the meaning behind it.

Back when I learned history, it was very simple and - pardon the expression - black and white. We fought the Revolutionary War because the British were bad and unfair. We (living in the North, it was always "we") fought the Civil War to free the slaves. We discussed little of the details of why things happened, but more just the dates and things that did happen.

It wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school and in Mr. Abalan's AP American History class that I first got a taste of the complexity that is history. I started to learn about why the British created their empire in the first place and how they controlled it and why issues came up. I learned about the economic issues that were facing the south and how the railroad development was creating challenges and divisiveness in addition to the question of slavery in terms of precipitating the Civil War.

Figures in history were the same way. We never heard about any of their faults or their foibles. They were mythical figures standing apart in history, something to aspire to but yet so far beyond us that it was an impossible task to live up to them.

The complexities in their personalities have also been shared since I was a school girl. They had their own scandals. They were selfish. They did right things for wrong reasons, and wrong things for right reasons. They were people, just like me - even if their official biographers frequently tried to convince us otherwise.

I'd rather know about what they did wrong sometimes though. Perfection isn't possible, and being human makes them more ... real. And believable. And it makes what they did even more impressive, and something that I feel like I actually can strive for. And I'd like to think that the wee ones feel the same way - understanding that they can do special things in life even though they aren't - and, like everyone else, could never be - completely perfect.

I love that they are talking about why things happen in the context of history. I'm glad that they are hearing about slavery and the complexity of race relations and how that tore apart our country. Granted, much of it has been toned down because they are only five and seven, but they are still learning things earlier than I did and with more truth than I did.

How were you taught history? And has your perspective changed as you learned more about the complexities involved in the people and events in history?

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This post was inspired by the book YOUNG MANDELA: The Revolutionary Years by David James Smith. It is the featured book in the From Left To Write book club where we write a post inspired by the book we read rather than an actual book review. There is no compensation involved, and all opinions expressed are my own. I did receive a copy of this book as a part of the book club


10 comments:

Susie January 17, 2011 at 2:35 PM  

I went to catholic schools so, my education was very filtered.

Kimberly January 17, 2011 at 9:21 PM  

As a child, I learned the very basic "history" of who won, who lost, etc.

When I became a teacher, I learned the WHY and HOW and that really makes the story a completely different learning experience.

Jenn M January 18, 2011 at 9:12 AM  

We learned a lot of Canadian history, British history and a tiny bit of US history which makes sense considering I'm Canadian eh, lol

It was always around us, and the fact that my dad was a huge history buff made us learn even when we weren't in school.

Unknown Mami January 18, 2011 at 5:57 PM  

I think I was taught along the lines of "the great men of history". There were these men that came along and changed history. They were either good or bad. I don't think that is a good way to teach history. Too simplistic.

Michelle January 18, 2011 at 6:56 PM  

Susie - Maybe that's what it was ... I was in Catholic school until 8th grade, and it was definitely filtered. Although I do wonder now if that was simply just "the way things were" for all schools.

Kimberly - Yep, that's pretty much what I learned. Understanding all the things behind what happened really do make such a difference. I hope more of it is taught that way now.

Jenn - Yep, which cracks me up. I remember playing Trivial Pursuit w/ some Canadian friends (their game). It was SO Canada focused while the US version is much more world focused. It didn't matter though, I still beat all of 'em ;)

Unknown Mami - That is exactly it. And it is so not what or how things happened. Yes, some were great, but many were thrust into situations they had no control over or were doing things for such different reasons than it appeared initially. Way too simplistic.

Tara R. January 19, 2011 at 7:01 AM  

Even though I lived through some of the event of our civil rights history, it wasn't until I was older that I understood the significants of it. Being from the south, I think the interpretation of those events was skewed from what actually happened.

Thankfully, my own children had a much less biased history education.

septembermom January 19, 2011 at 1:01 PM  

I also appreciate the thorough discussion of historical events and figures that happen in today's classroom. My kids also get a good perspective of the spirit and humanity of Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm interested to look into that Young Mandela book. Very interesting.

By the way, I was a Catholic school girl. Nothing very complex in our history classes back then.

Michelle January 20, 2011 at 10:37 PM  

Tara - Fortunately, I think, most children don't understand the significance of events when they're living them. And that innocence should be retained. That said, we also don't need to pretend that life is *all* sunshine and roses.

Kelly - Nope, nothing complex :) But now... I like the perspectives they're seeing. It isn't making it too complicated but rather sharing that people aren't perfect and that it's ok to not be perfect. It doesn't mean you can't do good or make a difference - or that choices are easy or things are black and white.

Brenda Bartella Peterson January 22, 2011 at 2:55 PM  

Michelle, Your experience and the comments of others is exactly the reason I posted on how this happens in our personal lives too. Everybody has a perspective and that doesn't necessarily mean, one is right and one is wrong. Living in the South, I have come to respect SOME of the southern point-of-view. And personally, I have had to accept that my siblings don't see things exactly as they will be portrayed in my memoir.

Michelle January 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM  

Brenda - I understand that exactly. It was a little disappointing to realize how differently some of my relatives think and act as I grew older - not that I was ever allowed to question them personally.

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