Teaching history: What’s wrong with the truth?

I was a teacher for 20 years. During that time, I taught journalism, communications, reading, and, for one year, history.

I have a great love of history and was fortunate that during my college years I was afforded a vast array of interesting courses. Not only did I study US history, I took European history, Chinese history, Russian history, and Black history. I traveled to Greece and Italy one summer to study the beginnings of civilization and ancient history. I spent a semester in Luxembourg—that tiny country hemmed in by French, Germany, and Belgium—where my studies focused primarily on the history leading up to and including both world wars.

I mention this now because history is under assault.  But let’s backtrack a little.

First, history is messy. There’s good and bad, light and darkness, stupidity and brilliance. The problem, of course, is that those in charge tend to record history from their own perspective. Hence the reason that when I was studying the past women were rarely mentioned. Nor were people who weren’t white males. Now don’t freak out here. I’m not denigrating white males. I’m just saying that history written from one viewpoint is rarely infallible. No crime here. Just a bit myopic.

I learned as a teacher that history is not well respected as a course of study. In fact, when some of my communications classes were cancelled and I asked to teach the subject, I was told that coaches taught history, which made me wonder if any of them had their hearts in the subject.  Maybe that’s why I rarely had students who said they liked history. Most rolled their eyes, intimating it was boring.  

Today, the rallying cry is Critical Race Theory, a horrible label for an area of study that only suggests we look boldly and clear eyed at our past. (Let me mention here that there are few if any schools who are currently using this curriculum, so perhaps those opposed are searching for a solution without a problem.)

That said, no country is perfect. But ignoring our sometimes tainted past helps no one.  Can you imagine being a student in Germany and never learning about the Nazis and the Holocaust? Of course not. So why should we ignore some of the awful things our ancestors did?

As a former reporter, I think history should be approached in the same way as a news story. (Of course, I’m talking about the process real journalists adhere to, but that’s for another story.) History teachers and students need to look closely at the sources from which their historical facts are gleaned. They need to consider their own beliefs to see if personal biases are distorting their understanding of the information. And they need to listen to different voices. For example, imagine the disparities one might encounter in the thoughts of a general, a foot soldier, and a prisoner of war. One needs the skills of a detective to absorb the words and pictures, then mull them over to discern the truth.

It’s my hope that we can stop fighting over the teaching of history. I know we can handle the truth and that we can learn from it and perhaps understand one another better.

What could it hurt?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wild-horses-on-the-salt-cover-2.jpg



Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

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2 thoughts on “Teaching history: What’s wrong with the truth?

  1. Jeffrey Leaf says:

    I’m with you. I taught 23 years of Engineering in high school and college. I hated my history courses until I realized it was the teaching of the courses. Memorizing dry facts sucks, but it gives the number crunchers in ed administration something to show the public. Too bad students don’t learn anything useful. History, should be taught with critical thinking about why and how things happen and from the point of view of all the different stake holders. We’ll never be able to legislate an end to bigotry, but creating critical thinkers about the people who made history might get people to change their own minds.


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