In Morgan Robertson’s fictional novel “Futility,” a fascinating story unfolds of an indomitable ocean liner called the “Titan,” which strikes an uncanny parallel to another famous vessel by a similar name.
Robertson’s tale describes his Titan as the biggest, most luxurious ship of its time. Most significant, it was deemed “unsinkable.”
Obviously, the late novelist was writing about the Titanic, right? After all, his fictional Titan was the same size and length as the Titanic, both vessels could travel up to 25 knots and both could carry up to 3,000 people.
If that’s not enough, both ships were on their very first voyages, traveling from Southampton to New York, and both struck icebergs one cold April night in exactly the same spot of the North Atlantic, plummeting similarly to an oceanic grave.
But the eeriness of it all only takes hold when one realizes that the author’s fabled episode was written in 1898 – the real Titanic set sail 14 years later.
History is full of such mystery, and this is the spark that gives it such color and intrigue. Ironically, this is also the spark that is missing from most curricularized history textbooks.
Small wonder, then, if a kid goes through school with little or no interest in history, like I did. Even less surprising if our young people roll over in subservient ignorance when the politically correct thought police come along and systematically trash those Dead White European Males. Kill history in the schools and not only does literacy get extinguished but our future is up for grabs as well.
While there have been many changes in education over the past several decades (some positive, some negative), the biggest thing changing about the teaching of history is the history we teach.
By the time the universities get through “reprogramming” our future teachers and rewriting the history books, we’ll be lucky if succeeding generations know anything at all about the Mayflower Compact or our Founding Fathers.
What needs to change is not what we teach in history, but how we teach it, and forgive me, but that old, painfully mind-numbing textbook just doesn’t cut it.
Teaching history from a textbook is like going on a diet. You love to eat but you always feel restrained because you can only eat certain things, so the things you do eat become a drudgery.
Conversely, drop-kicking the dry textbook approach and teaching history the way it begs to be taught would sort of be like coming off one of those hideous diets and going out to eat a sumptuous meal at some smorgasbord. In Cody, Wyoming, the history smorgasbord is waiting for our students at places like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Old Trail Town.
The best way to teach history is hinted in the word itself – history is a story, so it is communicated best through story-telling. It is dramatic, so it is best learned through drama and theatre.
History documents the human experience, so video-documentaries would emerge as a staple in this model. And history is a memory, yesterday’s news, so personal memoirs and today’s newspapers would be perfect for an approach that seeks to parallel the past with the present.
But best of all, history is replete with mystery, so a good history lesson would be laced with the inexplicable, the unbelievable, the mystical and the spiritual.
This doesn’t mean there would be no scope and sequence, that every teacher would teach whatever, whenever. It just means the teacher would use different tools, sharper tools. It means we would trade in the canned and cloned for the real thing, that we’d get out of the classroom and into the museums. We’d teach through travel, we’d use real biographies, read real letters and we’d have real World War II veterans tell our students about MacArthur, Pearl Harbor or trench warfare.
Our public libraries would be viewed as gold mines and we’d have our students visit them more than once or twice a year.
And the inevitable consequences of such a departure from convention, I am convinced, would be the cultivation of a generation of young people who not only know their history, but who are captivated by its infinite treasures and profound mysteries.
This is a history class I want to teach … this is a history class I want to take.