Spending the past two weekends on military bases (Missouri and Georgia) has renewed my belief in the need for history books available at younger and younger ages. I love the posters that say "History is boring — NOT!" My students enjoy picking up a book from the 900’s to browse through. Certain topics remain popular like the Titanic, pyramids, Native Americans, our own state and Pearl Harbor. But why those topics?
I believe our curriculums are very narrow. Our textbooks cannot cover everything. One textbook I reviewed had simply 2 sentences to most topics than dashed forward through U.S. History. Nashville schools experimented with Core Curriculum 10 years ago and for a short time students were exposed in slightly more depth to topics like Westward Expansion, the War of 1812, the French and Indian War, and ancient China. When Core Curriculum disappeared, so did the teacher-directed guidance towards these library books. Students do not have enough background knowledge to grasp why they should pick up a social studies book on something they have never heard about in class or at home.
Publishers read the textbooks and they market their series to the titles most needed to support the curriculum. Publishers know we are operating under miniscule budgets and have to make tough choices, so they don’t produce the wide variety of topics for historical books. This is a shame. I noted some areas that drew viewers interest while we were touring the Infantry Museum on Fort Benning, GA.
The War Dogs exhibit was very moving. I could have spent hours there watching the videos and studying the exhibit. I did spend over an hour in one small area dedicated to Army Medal of Honor winners and their stories. I found their stories fascinating and the exhibit left me wanting to learn more about these heroic soldiers. My son’s friends found the Holocaust exhibit most powerful. It seems they had never discussed it in ES, MS, or HS so they were shocked. All of us were completely overwhelmed and agreed that you couldn’t see all of it in one trip.
A visit to the museum that left us wanting more and needing to go to the public library to research on our own interests. Aha! This is what we should be doing more of in school instead of practicing our test-taking skills. We should be using our history, our museums, and our people’s stories to build background knowledge, set the scenario for study, and leave us asking for more.
Want to see my reasons for heading to the base? Meet my two of my sons: PFC Chen and PFC Chiupka.