Category Archives: History

New Course

For some time I’ve considered proposing a new course or two to my department and then my administration.

My first thought is a Film Analysis course where students analyze movies (the way the film is shot and the thematic elements within each film). We could connect the films to literature, other films, and the students’ lives as well as meet the Common Core standards chosen for the senior English courses at my school. In addition, I could incorporate the following using contemporary and classic films:

  • literary devices, 
  • the heroic cycle,
  • Joseph Campbell’s ideas on mythology,
  • classic motifs and patterns,
  • Christ-like characters, and
  • more.

My second thought would be a Modern History through Science Fiction course. This course could be a Social Studies or a Language Arts class and could begin with The Civil War and move through to the modern day. Authors such as H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Phillp K. Dick, and others would form the basis for a decade by decade historical study of political, economic, and military events as well as look at the ways science fiction reflects and influences American society.

Do you have a course like either one of these at your school? I’d love to know how well respected they are in addition to their popularity.

September 11

I don’t have the words to express what I felt on 9/11, so I decided to post a comic from one of my favorite strips. Remember those we lost and cherish those we still have.

This Week In Censorship

The author of this article and I thought of the same Mark Twain line when seeing the insanity of replacing the n-word with “slave:”

The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is . . . the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

How could anyone think substituting an author’s words, intent, and meaning is acceptable?

There has to be a limit to the political correctness and perceived comfort levels of the public. No one learns anything of value in complete comfort; challenging ideas is at the heart of becoming educated.

As this article writer stated: “The one consolation is that somewhere, Mark Twain is laughing his head off.” Alan Gribben of Auburn University, in my opinion, should be ashamed of himself for sponsoring the censorship of art, the art of America’s most renowned author, and the alteration of America’s (arguably) most American novel.

Texas Moves Backwards

Texas prepared to change the history textbooks to create a more right leaning slant, and Texas voted for a new curriculum that “amends or waters down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items.”

Maybe one solution to this problem is not to buy textbooks from Texas. If history is being rewritten, don’t purchase the books. Put a financial strain on the publishers since they rely on national sales.

A second solution could be more fun: have all students who come to a college in your state be required to take remedial history at your university or college. If their education cannot be trusted, force them to be re-educated.

How fun would it be to watch the education wars begin?!

Come to the Dark Side

I actually think teaching students about the positives and negatives of famous figures is a good thing. Apparently, I’m not alone.

What I despised about history was how boring it was when I was student: dates, figures, war, dates, figures, wars, etc. We never talked about the faults of the Founding Fathers like sleeping with slaves, drunkenness, or corruption; or the Socialist years of Hellen Keller; or the change in Malcolm X’s views after visiting Mecca; or how other stories of American legendary figures may have been exaggerated. Those people were stock and static; they weren’t real.

The only image I saw of Columbus was of him carrying a cross and a sword onto the American shore. We skipped the whole slavery thing, and the brutality thing, and the mean sea captain thing, and the extra voyages thing.

I wrote a post a while ago which relates to this. Here’s an excerpt from the original piece:

Instead of presenting what people truly feel and do as teachers (and in this case journalists), we are given a tale, a fabrication of the truth. Maybe truth can be stretched for a purpose as in a film like Big Fish, but I would prefer the truth.

Of course, this led me to think about the classroom as well. Students often tell me that some of the most interesting things they learn about the writers and historical figures in my classes are the imperfections; they tire of myth and want truth.

The students enjoyed hearing about how Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden alone in the woods, but he allowed himself reprieves from the absolute isolation and independence of the famous pond when he would visit his buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson from time to time. The students’ question “how could he do that for so long” is duly answered.

Ken Kesey became an interesting figure when the students learned of his drug use and flight from justice. Abraham Lincoln’s shifting views of slavery interested the students as did Benjamin Franklin’s dalliances with women, and Thomas Jefferson’s relations with his slaves, and the Colossus of Rhodes’ true appearance, and Thomas Edison’s ruthlessness, and Marie Antoinette’s attributed words about peasants eating cake (which she never said), and Napoleon’s true height, and how George Washington could be considered the 15th President of the United States.

They say the same things about the characters in the texts, too. Every year the students find Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities “boring” because she is not three-dimensional; she has no real imperfection. Lucie is perfect in every way and betters everyone around her. How dull! How predictable! But these same students love Sydney Carton’s boorish and drunken figure as he transforms himself from “a disappointed drudge” into a “far, far better” man.

When we reveal truth we may actually increase interest and appreciation.