Wednesday, September 16, 2009

History in School Musings

I did not do very well in history class during my jr. high and high school years. In fact my grades were downright poor.
It just didn't hold my interest.
Now, if you've read what I wrote nearly a year ago (And How Long Have YOU Been Into History?) you'll remember that I have been into history virtually my entire life. But, just as Henry Ford once stated, "History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
I fully concur.
What brought this on was yesterday, the history teacher at the middle school in which I work figured that since I was this 'major history buff' that I probably skated through my history classes and received all high marks. Was she shocked to find just the opposite! Like Mr. Ford, I had no interest in wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. Back in either 8th or 9th grade I recall asking my history teacher what people ate for breakfast during colonial times (this was during the bi-centennial, so the colonial era was very popular), and he thought I was being impudent.
I wasn't. I really wanted to know.
I also wondered what folks did at night for entertainment. I mean, I watched TV...probably Happy Days or Welcome Back Kotter or something along those lines. I knew my parents, when they were in their teens did close to the same thing I did, except they listened to the radio in that pre-TV era.
But what did the average 14 year old of the 1850's or the 1770's do when the sun went down? Surely they didn't go to bed quite so early, especially in the wintertime when the days are so much shorter.
I wanted to know!
Again, the teacher wasn't sure how to take me.
Finally, after speaking with me after class one day, he understood that I was quite serious in my quest of everyday life knowledge of days gone by, and he made me a deal: learn the names and dates and all of the other political information I needed to know in order to pass the class and he would do his best to find me the social history I was looking for.
We both kinda stuck by our promise: I passed all of my tests and turned in most of my homework and he did his best to get my information for me.
Unfortunately, he could find very little. The information just wasn't out there, readily available like it is today.
And it took years of heavy duty research just to find little snippets, but I grabbed onto anything and everything I could. One of the best sources (at that time) for everyday life during the late 19th and early 20th century was a magazine called "Good Old Days" that my mother used to subscribe to.
Another source was looking at microfilm of old newspaper advertisements.
So here I am today...a school janitor...and now history teachers come to me with questions about everyday life of long ago times because they know I'll have the answers.
Because most school text books still do not teach that.


Chandra said...

Ken, I am soooo with you! It's funny, but now that I work at a living history museum again, I now realize that the kind of history I am interested in has nothing to do with the history taught in schools. Ask me the official date the Civil War started, I am at a total loss. I really don't care, either. Ask me about clothing fads or sexual relationships in the 19th Century, and you will get a very excited answer from me. One of my favorite things to do at work is respond to comments such as "Everyone was so uptight back then, they wore boring clothes and were all good Christians." Yeah, right! I will then jump at the chance to show them my bright red stockings, or my bonnet that is so heavily covered in silk flowers and stripped ribbons it's a wonder my head remains upright. I show them the parlor in "my" home, and point out the clashing wallpaper and patterned carpet. And, if if I feel the visitors will appriciate it, I may talk about some of the rather "non Christian" like things people did in their personal lives, if you get what I mean. I looove dispelling the myths. If you want to learn about dates and casualty numbers, go see the guy in the Law Office. That's his specialty. You want to learn about social history, come see me. :)

Mrs. G said...

Hmm, interesting! I'm pretty out of tune with what the Government schools teach, I guess; our children get a pretty wide spectrum of history which is probably why they like it. Public schools keep repeating the same model hoping for a different result, but I suppose since their goal isn't *really* education this works well for them.