For many years at my current school, I held membership in the History Department. In a newsletter one year, I proposed the idea (don’t think I am the originator!) of teaching history backwards – start today and work backwards in time tracing connections and interesting linkages. Dr. Lamplugh even did it one year (said he loved it)! One could weave this approach together with thematic teaching in a course like “News.” Or even better, one could employ Steve Goldberg’s deep-digging approach detailed in his recent post: “Why not teach about war? We’re fighting two right now….”
I think it’s about making connections, don’t you? Connections with “what’s going on today” and “how did we get here on this issue?” Connections with the PEOPLE living this news and emerging from these histories. Connections among the things that we overly silo…called departments or disciplines.
The spider cannot weave a web except by leaping from where she currently resides and connecting to another anchor. From these anchors emerge the threads that last when the wind blows most viciously. From these anchors empathy blooms.
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This reminds me of the excellent BBC show, Connections, by James Burke (no relation, sadly). Burke takes his audience tour through history by starting with some modern day happening, like the 1977 NYC blackout (which was modern at the airing of the show), and showing how it connects back to the Egyptian Plow, and then tracing the path of technology and historical events connecting the two. This show, almost singlehandedly, made me fall in love with history, and it also serves as the basis for the annual talk I give about Alan Turing and the Day of Silence. I gave that talk just today, coincidentally.
We have an Upper School teacher who does teach history backwards, and reports excellent results. The problem is solved was that the traditional method always leaves modern history for that mad rush in the spring; US History classes would try to cram the entire Cold War, Viet Nam, and social revolutions of the late 20th Century into a week. We also teach a Social Justice class which is akin to your idea of a Peace class.
Grant, these are great, real, current examples. Going back to an early 60-60-60 post about sharing, I wish more people would share their practices so that we could learn from what is happening – examples we could amplify! Thanks for these.
First, thanks for mentioning my blog. Second, I once taught US history backwards — sort of. I started with Vietnam for three weeks, and then went back to colonial times and when we got to the Revolutionary War, students were able to compare the horrors of war from Vietnam to the Revolutionary War. It made that long-ago battle feel more real.
A problem was that I ran out of time. We didn’t get anywhere near WWII by the end of the year. Also, many students were confused about why the US would care about Vietnam, because they lacked the cold war context.
In my mind, though, that unit on Vietnam was a great success because students engaged with the material and gained empathy for people in various positions whose lives changed as a result of the American War (as it’s called in Vietnam).
I think a peace class would make a nice counterbalance to all the war stuff we usually teach 🙂