Monday, August 01, 2005

Harry Potter and History

In David Broder's recent column about Harry Potter, he Broder wrote about the need for better History standard's in education, noting that our middle- and high school students are losing their knowledge of history. He also mentioned a recent Senate hearing in which David McCullough testified. According to Broder, McCullough noted that of those who teach our students history, "Too many have degrees in education . . . and don't really know the subject they are teaching." As such
McCullough said that the problem starts with the training that teachers receive.

"It is impossible to love a subject you don't know," he said, "and without a passion for history, the teaching of history becomes a matter of rote learning and drudgery."

Without personal knowledge of history and enthusiasm for the subject, "you're much more dependent on the textbook," and, with rare exceptions -- he mentioned the great one-volume American history text by Daniel Boorstin, the late librarian of Congress -- "you read these texts and ask yourself, 'Are they assigned as punishment?' " McCullough, who is nothing if not passionate about the subject, added: "Amnesia of society is just as detrimental as amnesia for the individual. We are running a terrible risk. Our very freedom depends on education, and we are failing our children in not providing that education."

The schools, he said, are also denying them "a source of infinite pleasure," a pastime that can enrich them throughout their lives. "I think we human beings are naturally interested in history. All our stories begin, 'Once upon a time . . . .' To make history boring is a crime."
This is nothing new to historians, but it did spark a thought. What if some organization(s), such as the AHA or OAS, were to develop and disseminate a reading-list of "endorsed" historical fiction? Or, alternatively, what if a some sort of historical fiction primer was developed for every age group? Not being an educator myself, I don't know if such a thing already exists. Does anyone else? I believe that American Studies programs do this sort of thing by using American literature as part of the study of American culture, etc. But history is a bit different than "culture", though the spheres intersect to a great degree. Maybe I'm just looking for historically accurate alternatives to "Washington-chopped-down-the-cherry-tree", stories that can grab the attention of students and pique their interest. History is replete with such real stories, as McCullough has stated, but maybe an alternative or supplement would be the inclusion of some good historical fiction in the mix.

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