No, its not dates.
No, its not names.
No, its not even the events.
The most important thing about history is to learn, understand, and make sense of differing points of view.
Throughout my history education in public schooling, I learned that Christopher Columbus was guided by some Greater Force to discover America. I learned that all the Founding Fathers were pinnacles of virtue and wisdom and self-lessness. I learned that America was always in the right. I was in middle school when history was made and 9/11 happened. America was attacked by an evil country, led by an evil man, with evil people. In high school, I took IB History of the Americas. We learned about Latin America. The government was evil and corrupt, causing the people to be evil and corrupt.
College, my learning changed. No longer was America right and just. No longer was Anglo-Saxon, white, male history the way it was. Exactly the opposite. Washington was liar. Columbus started the genocide (intentional and unintentional) of the natives. Colonialism was slavery. The British had good reasons for their taxing of American colonies.
I went from an antiquarian, nationalistic view of history into a modern view. One of my history courses, History 221 (2nd half of U.S. History) was a very interesting class. It was supposed to be a survey class, especially geared toward History Education majors. A review of American history so that we could teach it in a few years. However, the section that I signed up for was, unbeknownst to me, taught by a visiting professor who was much more interested in theory of history. He was a very modernist historian on the New Left. He was a revisionist. I hated his views. I hated them. At the same time he was a revisionist, I felt he still tipped over to the chauvinistic view of history. But, it got me thinking.
Now that I am a history teacher, I don’t want to teach my students the same way I learned in public school. Especially because they are a very right-winged, ultra-conservative, Mormon hotspot. Now, I am a Mormon. A very active, religious, faithful Mormon. But, I do believe that some Mormons here in Utah are very close-minded. And I don’t want to teach that. I already see my students being brainwashed by their parents. They say things and have views on issues that they don’t really understand because their parents told them.
But, for me, I am going to teach them the most important thing in history:
Points of View!
Throughout October, my 7th graders learned about how the Mormons migrated to Utah, set up the territory, but still had issues and tensions with Non-Mormons and the federal government. About 95% of my students are Mormon. I wanted to show them that Mormons weren’t always the victim. That it wasn’t pure hatred that drove them out of Missouri and caused the Utah War. We focused on legitimate, logical, rational fears the non-Mormons had of this new and unusual people. We discussed how the runaway judges caused rumors to be spread which caused the Mormons to fear, which caused a militia to grow to protect themselves, which caused the judges’ rumors to ring true of an army being built. The Utah War was a mess of misunderstandings on both sides.
My 8th graders are learning about the road to the Revolution. Last week we studied the French and Indian War. There were 3 sides to it: English colonists, French fur trappers, and Native Americans. Instead of focusing on the events and battles, I set it up in three parts: Thoughts/Feelings/Points of View of before the war, during the war, and after the war. They were shocked to learn what Benjamin Franklin had written in his Gazette, to encourage the move westward to the Ohio Country and to kick the French out, by force if necessary. We discussed how all 3 groups felt about the Ohio Country and why they wanted it–all logical, rational reasons. We discussed the relationships between all 3 groups. We discussed who was hurt because of the War (all of them). On Friday, we had a debate to answer this question: “Who is more justified in the French and Indian War? Who deserved the Ohio Country the most?” Notice, I said “the most.” Because, all of them needed/wanted/deserved the area.
The debate went great! Each group represented one of the 3 (Natives, English, French), against another group. They all had very good ideas, explaining why their group, over another’s, deserved the Ohio Country more. This got my students to open their eyes.
Now we are learning about all the tax acts: Navigation Act, Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, etc. I am trying to show them why the English government needed to tax them, as well as showing them how the colonists felt.
I have mentioned slavery once or twice already. Yes, I believe slavery was a horrible thing. But, being raised in the South, I understand that it was of utmost importance for them. Not because white Southern colonists believed they were superior to the blacks, but because their plantations were so large, and cash crops demanded such labor, the only way for them to make an economic profit was to have free labor.
I want them to see different points of view rather than believe that what they have heard is correct. I want them to use their own brains to weigh for themselves who was in the right and who was in the wrong. For the most part, that should be a difficult question to answer and the most common answer should be, “Both sides.”
I guess you could call me a post-modernist, post-revisionist, with a hint of modernism (I root for the underdog, like Wales in British history!) So, it is interesting to see my journey in historical discovery and how it will affect my students’ journeys.
Because, the most important thing is not the destination, but the journey.
It is not the date that is important, it is the points of view.