teaching on many levels

I used to think that history was boring.  It was a neverending list of names, dates, places, battles, kings…men.  White men, usually.  I remember asking my American history teacher in high school what was so great about Christopher Columbus.  He told me that Columbus had discovered America, and I kept wondering ‘but what about the people who were already here?’.  Unless a white man laid eyes on something, it seems, it didn’t exist.  Oh, there were the occasional women — Betsy Ross, Susan B. Anthony (wow, I’m dating myself, aren’t I).  And even non-white men:  George Washington Carver and, of course, MLK.  

But there was little that was, frankly, interesting.  It was boring and I hated it.  Until I realized that there was another way to ‘do’ history, one that looked from different angles, different perspectives, questioned assumptions, and thought that things like wars, which were so ubiquitous, were, because of their very prevalence, less than interesting.  And I got interested.  And when I started teaching, I was excited about it.  But my students weren’t.  They entered my classroom like the condemned, sure that they would hate the class — I heard many variations on the ‘history is boring’ theme.  They had gotten, in high school, the same dull, boring lists that I had gotten, and had been similarly turned off.

Thus, my goal as a teacher was (and still is!) to change at least some of their minds.  To make at least one person every quarter actually get excited about history.  For some, that means military history.  For others, it’s the realization that their gender, their ethnic group, their age group…people just like them had changed history at some point, for good or ill.  That history wasn’t what king ruled, but what that king’s subjects were doing, what they were thinking, how they lived their quotidian lives.  

And amazingly, it worked.  And then The D came along, and started learning history in grade school.  And I wanted her to be excited, so I told her stories, stories that complimented what she was learning in her textbooks, which, while a bit more diverse than, say, my history textbooks when I was in grade school, still glossed over such problematic issues as native/settler relationships, religious conflict, or early slavery.  So I told her about them.  And then I got the note from one of her teachers.  It asked me, very nicely, to stop teaching The D the ‘extra’ stuff I had been teaching her, because she was sharing it at school, and getting the other kids confused.  Instead of stopping, of course, I just told her to stop discussing it at school.  

Funnily enough, telling The D these stories also changed her view of history, but not until she went to her new school, where her teacher finally ‘got’ that I wasn’t trying to undermine the curriculum, but enhance it.  Good teachers know that ‘extra stuff’ isn’t a bad thing, but can round out a student’s knowledge, and add to their learning.  It enhances, not distracts.  And it makes them love the subject.  So, if a teacher ever tells you to stop helping your child, find a different teacher — FAST!

On a related note, I’ve started to teach The D to cook.  Tough for me, because following recipes has never been my strong suit.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone insist that baking is an exact science, and that all sorts of exact measurements and steps simply must be taken.  Really?  I’ve never sifted flour in my life…there’s such a thing as a fork.  And there are few cakes that can’t be made with plain old flour rather than cake flour.  And I’ve not used a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in YEARS.  And yet, somehow, they always come out just fine.  

What does this all boil down to?  That in teaching The D to cook, I’ve had to re-teach myself to read recipes, to actually take the time to show her how to measure, how to blend things, how to fold and how to whip and how to add certain things in a certain order.  It’s odd, following recipes.  And it’s certainly odd having to stop and explain it.  I’ve explained Freud, Marx, Foucault, the Crusades, the origins of monotheism, and the Black Death.  This shouldn’t be hard.  But teaching my daughter to cook, I think, is going to be a challenge.  One I look forward to with some fear, some pride, and whole lot of mess!

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Published in: on June 20, 2009 at 1:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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