Am I Crazy or What?

While seeing a psychologist, a person I know happened to mention my upcoming trip. The friend was concerned that she had done little with her life while I instead was about to walk across the country. Her astute psychologist replied, "Perhaps the wrong person is on the couch!"
Sometimes I wonder if that psychologist was right. Recently my wife asked if I truly had a grasp of the enormity of the project I am about to undertake? I confessed that I do not - I only know I must do it. Perhaps then, my friend's counselor was correct. But aren't all people who climb mountains a little crazy? Aren't sailors who sail the far seas a little looney? Aren't any people who do what others do not - by definition - different? In this respect, I accept the term while at the same time question my own sanity.
Yet, looking over my past, the foreshadows were present at an early age. Growing up in eastern Ohio, I sought solace from a troubled home by exploring the rich Appalachian woods. Hiking for miles I would wander and wonder of the Indians who had once roamed the very same hills, had drunk from the very same springs, and had explored the very same caves that I now explored. In addition, I have always enjoyed studying America's western migration - in particular, the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail. Many were the times I wondered if I, too, could have walked with the wagons to Oregon had I lived in those days.
Now, I will soon begin a 3,000 mile journey. Ironically this trip will not be to Oregon, but rather - from Oregon. Alone, I will wander in search for what Americans believe about their country. What really does being an American today represent? I know not what trials and adventures await, but in 15 days - I will begin to find out.
Perhaps that psychologist was right.

Who Cares About Dead People Anyway!

As predictable as the falling leaves, each new school year finds students entering their history classes uttering, "Who cares about dead people anyway!" Yet survey after survey show high schoolers rating social studies as their #1 subject. How can this be? This apparent incongruence can be easily explained - unfortunately, in this case, "number one" represents the most boring and disliked! How many of us looking back on our own history classes would say the same? In my opinion - too many.
The reason is both natural and the fault of educators.

Nature's Reason
Quite simply - young people are interested in the future. "When will I get a drivers license? When will I get a diploma? When will I get to live on my own?" These and other similar questions are both timeless and predictable as students mature and seek to find entrance into the adult world. Students want and need relevance. How will this subject help me? How will this contribute to who I am or what I will become? For most students, looking to the past is nothing more than looking in the wrong direction. "History? Forget it! Studying the past has nothing to do with me."
Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.

Educational Reasons
Let me begin by stating that most teachers are dedicated individuals working with what is often an unappreciative audience and an unappreciative public. Kids are failing? - blame the schools. Kid on drugs? - blame the schools. Kids in poverty? - somehow this also must be the fault of the schools. Parents, community leaders, and politicians are quite willing to pass responsibility for a situation that is shared by all. I am reminded of an old expression, "Success has many parents whereas failure is usually an orphan." Like an unwanted baby, the public has chosen to simply set much of its societal ills on the schoolhouse steps, rung the door, and run!
Yet, this does not let us "off the hook" as educators.

My top 10 list of reasons kids dislike history (in no particular order).
If, as educators, we:
1. fail to connect the past to the present.
2. only teach from a textbook.
3. fail to make it relevant.
4. teach without love and passion.
5. place too much emphasis on grades and tests.
6. do not possess enough background knowledge.
7. reserve social studies teaching positions for coaches.
8. fail to teach history from a multicultural perspective.
9. share only the "good" when teaching our country's history.
10. fail to make its study an enjoyable experience.

I will address these issues individually in future posts.

A little history: Part 3

Since that beginning in 2005 I have progressed to presentations for schools, community groups, and Fourth of July events. These presentations include many items of historical
significance and a collection of historical flags. In addition, I recite from memory the Declaration of Independence for 4th of July celebrations. Last year I preformed previous to Herman's Hermits (you older folks remember them) and after finishing, I could sincerely say to the crowd, "And now, the British are coming."

Did you know that Paul Revere never said that?

A little history: Part 2

July 2, 2005, I began on a sidewalk in Eugene, Oregon. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous and a bit intimidated, but with my wife's encouragement, I took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. Dressed as an American of the colonial era, my goal was to remind people from whence we, as a nation, have come and of the need to appreciate our inherited gifts. Standing in the hot July sun I began passing out copies of the Bill of Rights to passersby while wishing them a happy Independence Day. This I suppose, was my first public history lesson - that American Independence was not declared on July 4, 1776. As the day warmed, I also warmed to my task for most people expressed support. I went home at the end of the day with tired feet and a glad heart.

July 4, 2005, two days later and more emboldened, I attempted to attend a local Fourth of July festival. The officials, suspicious of my costume and my desire to hand-out copies of the Bill of Rights, were hesitant to permit me entrance. They expressed concern that I might be "political" but eventually relented after consultation with their director. Once inside I was again encouraged by the support I received by the people. As this celebration included musical entertainment, I offered to recite the Declaration of Independence during one of the breaks between performances but received a resounding,"No thank you!" This rejection only increased my resolve for my courage was now growing.
Driving home later that evening I had one prominent thought, "How do I sneak into the house without my neighbors seeing me in this crazy outfit? So much for courage!

A little history Part 1

Complaining one day to my son about the ongoing erosion of civil liberties he sincerely asked, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" In resignation I jokingly replied, "Oh, have a beer," and we both laughed at my response. After serious thought - that moment for me became pivotal. I have always taught my students that if we each do our small share - great things can occur. As a teacher who loves history and deeply values the Bill of Rights I decided to move beyond my classroom and into the public arena. I purchased a colonial era outfit and armed with copies of the Bill of Rights I headed for the streets. That was six years and 5,000 copies ago.