Our history

In most educational settings, history is often taught in a stale, immovable way. This was my experience until my junior and senior years of high school, when I was lucky enough to have several teachers who valued making history feel tangible and valuable to the lives of students. The main way my teachers created this feeling was by viewing the same historical event through multiple lenses. 

Prior to this point in my education, I had been taught that there was one true story of history, the only story. In my junior year History of the Americas class, my world was opened up to the truth and validity of multiple points of view for the same subject. This was introduced by analyzing the same historical events, such as Columbus’ conquest, banana republics, the Mexican-American War, etc. from perspectives of multiple sides. We analyzed first- and second-person accounts, historical texts and timelines, and even incorporated examination of magical realism literature to strive to reach a fuller picture of how history can mold the experiences of many different people in varying ways. History did not feel dry or perfunctory, but instead took on so much emotion and connectedness.

My teachers never discouraged us from sharing our own perspectives as well, allowing us to partake in history and therefore making it more important to our own lives. This was particularly important during the subjects of the 9/11 attacks and the Arab-Israeli conflict. We would often have discussions before a unit, where we would discuss what we knew about a subject, maybe with an introductory overview taking place first to help aid the discussion. This also allowed my teachers some form of assessment in order to scaffold knowledge into the class based on what was already known about the subjects. Discussion or debate often led to a lot of emotion over the topics, and I appreciate that my teachers never shied away from facilitating difficult conversations. 

For me, what was most impactful from those classes were the reviews at the end, which were often written assessments of what we had learned, what affected us the most, and what questions we still had. From seeing many perspectives on a historical event, it made me feel the validity of my own point of view and those of my peers, knowing that history did not exist in some untouchable place in the world. The amount of freedom we were afforded really bolstered our autonomy in terms of Self-Determination Theory, and made us value ourselves and our place in history. 

Featured image by Shelagh Murphy on Unsplash

4 Replies to “Our history”

  1. This is super important. Too many teachers shy away from teaching the difficult parts of history, and oftentimes that is what needs to be talked about the most. Allowing students to share their perspectives and “immerse themselves” in a way is a super valuable means of creating interest and passion in a subject that can be very stale when it is taught as though it is a names, dates, and locations quiz. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Olivia, fantastic job with your post! You are lucky to have had such amazing history teachers during your junior and senior years of high school. Using lenses to view history is one of the best ways to appreciate how dynamic the subject is. I’ve had many history teachers who viewed history as a static, unchanging subject, but those who incorporated different lenses and revisionism really stood out. Similar to my post, you touch on self-determination theory, and I agree with you—having autonomy while approaching history is essential for a meaningful experience. Once again, great job with your post!

  3. Olivia, your experience really stood out to me because it reminded me so much of my own! I agree that history, when it comes from a single viewpoint, is stale and unable to be interacted with. I hear so often from students that they don’t see the point in studying history because “it’s the past”. If it’s already happened, what’s the point in interacting with it? In my experience, good teachers give their students access to the many sides of an event, person, place, etc. so that they become aware of the importance of perspectives. No issues ever only has one side!

  4. I love this, Olivia. For much of my own experience in history in school it was about the one true narrative. History is a braided strand of many stories. I think when a good teacher can show this and more importantly bring our own narrative into the discussion its becomes richer and something students can engage in.

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