BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
Many children equate history with dates, states or old presidents and have been taught with only a textbook. No wonder children become bored with history, especially when it’s not linked to current events. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how you can use the familiar to connect history to your children’s everyday lives.
Use music to shine a light on the dark periods of our nation’s history. For example, Edwin Starr’s song, “War,” can be used to discuss the wars in which the United States has been involved. After listening and reading the line, “They say we must fight to keep our freedom,” ask your children to brainstorm other reasons the U.S. started or joined wars. Then research the causes of the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the War in Iraq.
You can also use music to discuss past injustices in this country. For example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” gives voice to the period of history when African Americans were lynched, primarily in the South, and Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” puts a face on the 1960s-1970s Women’s Liberation Movement in the U.S.
Take advantage of the seasoned men and women in your life, and have your children interview them on historical topics, such as Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s term of office or the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Have your child use the information from their interviews to write a paper about a historical event or create a pictorial timeline during that period.
Worth a thousand words, pictures do more than capture a moment. They give a glimpse of the historical significance of the time period in which the photo was taken. Use photographs to teach your child about the culture and values of a generation. For example, a photograph from your grandparents’ backyard party in 1975 may show your uncle in bell-bottoms, donning an afro with his fist pumped in the air. Use that image to discuss with your child the racial pride that African Americans embraced in the 1960s and 1970s. Then have your child research the term “black power” and describe how it changed the attitudes and self-perceptions of many African Americans during that time.
Don’t have any old photos? Use the Internet to download images from the past in order to jumpstart a discussion.
Your children can also explore the attitudes, opinions, and struggles of those from the past through journals. Many websites display journal entries and narratives of those who lived during important times in history. You can find transcribed firsthand accounts of slave life at Documenting the American South (http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/). At Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/, your children can read entries that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wrote as they explored the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s. Reading the thoughts of people who were part of history gives the facts that your child learns in his textbook brand new meaning.
Find the packrat in your family and use items from his stash to help your child compare yesterday’s entertainment and culture with today’s. If you have an old cellphone, stereo, or computer around, have your children compare those old forms of technology with today’s iPhone, iPod, and PC. If you kept a few items from the 1980s, use them to show your child the popular trends that teens wore during that time. Then compare the impact of that trend with a modern-day trend, such as baggy jeans. Compare old magazine covers with new ones. Have your child place an Ebony magazine from the 1970s next to this month’s edition. Compare and contrast the two. Ask questions, such as how are the cover models similar? How are they different? On what types of topics did the old magazine focus? What topics does the newer edition feature?
By making history real for them, they will not only understand history better but enjoy it more.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.