While visiting various cities and historical monuments on an epic road trip in 2012, I was struck by the contrast to my school history classes. Seeing sites like the Kearney Archway, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Statue of Liberty and the Boston State Houses all helps bring a sense of reality to the past. When before, it was a meaningless and confusing jumble of names, dates and places, now I have a frame of reference for events I’ve learned about.
This makes me wonder how we can bring history to life for today’s students. How do we connect these facts of the past to their lives? For example, I was struck (and a bit embarrassed by my consumer nature) when looking at an old covered wagon that took entire families’ belongings on an arduous journey into unknown territory. I had just completed a move of my own, following the Oregon Trail backwards, with possesions for just myself that would easily pack four covered wagons!
What are the connection points with the diverse and unique students learning history today? We know that we must learn from the past in order to prevent repeating the same patterns over and over. I think this is one of the core needs in reforming education–connecting academic content to the everyday lives of people, now and for their future. Knowledge then becomes applicable and relevant, and even better, engaging!