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.
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.
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.