The right way to teach history

Sep 25, 2013 by

By Marion Brady –

Mr. Martinez, middle school American history teacher, slips his roll book into a desk drawer and looks up at his class.

The students eye him quietly, for they’ve learned that he frequently does or says something surprising. If they aren’t attentive, they might miss it.

The attentiveness isn’t lost on Martinez. After a well-timed pause, he touches a key on his computer, and projected on the screen in the front of the room is a huge image of a yellowed, authentic poster announcing job openings for Pony Express riders.

“WANTED,” the poster says, “YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week.”

Martinez watches his students’ eyes sweep down the poster. Then, pausing just a moment, he asks, “Any takers?”


There are good reasons for studying American history. Martinez’ style suggests he favors the benefits to be had from what the publishers of history textbooks sometimes advertise as “making the past come alive” — history as literature, history that engages the emotions, history in the form of an exciting, perhaps inspiring story.

That use of history fills an important need. In order for a society to function, its members must feel connected — have a sense of “us-ness.” Without it, individual interests overwhelm collective interests. Taxes are resisted. Roads, bridges, parks, schools, libraries, and so on, don’t get built, or, if built, aren’t maintained. Without that sense of relatedness, social institutions that provide protection, insure justice, maintain the environment, and so on, aren’t created, or, if created, aren’t sufficiently supported.

via The right way to teach history.

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