By Holly Meisel
Good question, I responded to myself after eyeing the title of this professional book on the table. Why do I always hear from students how boring their Social Studies class is? Worksheet upon worksheet, test upon test; the clock cannot move fast enough! While the Math teacher is incorporating fun games and puzzles into her lessons, and the science teacher is working diligently on the next fun lab experiment, the social studies teacher is in the copy room, running off more worksheets. Sure, some teachers do have fun games and cute acronyms to remember dates, events, important people, but in the end are the students experiencing true learning? It depends on the teacher and how well they make the necessary connections of this new information to their lives. The authors of this book – each chapter is written by a different author – all have a common theme, and that is the human factor – putting the people back into history. Jean Fritz’s autobiography, Homesick, has a pointed description of American History textbooks, “I skimmed through the pages, but I couldn’t find any mention of people at all. There was talk about dates and square miles and cultivation and population growth and immigration and the Western movement, but it was as if the forests had laid down and given way to farmland without anyone being brave or scared or tired or sad, without babies being born, without people dying.” (1982, p. 153, p. 4)
It is the people who are missing. Incorporating literature that is filled with historical information as seen through the eyes of the characters is one effective way to bring people back to history. For example, if you are studying The Great Depression, the book No Promises in the Wind is a great novel to read. Instead of being a time period with a set of dates, it is now also a conflict in the lives of three boys and their families. This book helps students become more aware of how the Great Depression affected them personally. Going outside the classroom – conducting interviews with people who lived through certain periods in more recent American History, is another way to bring people into history along with Inquiry projects that target research on the people of that particular time period. Guest speakers who live locally but are from other parts of the world provide excellent learning connections for our students. History could have personal meaning for our students if we changed our focus from lifeless names, dates, generals, battles, etc. to the people themselves of any particular time period.