Knowing History and Knowing Who We are - David McCullough

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Tuly
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Knowing History and Knowing Who We are - David McCullough

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I read this essay from one of McCullough's book - The American Spirit - this is a talk he gave at Hillsdale College - February 2005 - I absolutely love his understanding of education. https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/knowing- ... ho-we-are/
Read the whole talk - it's edifying!
We have to do several things. First of all we have to get across the idea that we have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed. This is essential. We have to value what our forebears—and not just in the 18th century, but our own parents and grandparents—did for us, or we’re not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away. If you don’t care about it—if you’ve inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune and you don’t know that it’s worth a fortune, you don’t even know that it’s a great work of art and you’re not interested in it—you’re going to lose it.

We have to do a far better job of teaching our teachers. We have too many teachers who are graduating with degrees in education. They go to schools of education or they major in education, and they graduate knowing something called education, but they don’t know a subject. They’re assigned to teach botany or English literature or history, and of course they can’t perform as they should. Knowing a subject is important because you want to know what you’re talking about when you’re teaching. But beyond that, you can’t love what you don’t know. And the great teachers—the teachers who influence you, who change your lives—almost always, I’m sure, are the teachers that love what they are teaching. It is that wonderful teacher who says ”Come over here and look in this microscope, you’re really going to get a kick out of this.“

There was a wonderful professor of child psychology at the University of Pittsburgh named Margaret McFarland who was so wise that I wish her teachings and her ideas and her themes were much better known. She said that attitudes aren’t taught, they’re caught. If the teacher has an attitude of enthusiasm for the subject, the student catches that whether the student is in second grade or is in graduate school. She said that if you show them what you love, they’ll get it and they’ll want to get it. Also if the teachers know what they are teaching, they are much less dependent on textbooks. And I don’t know when the last time you picked up a textbook in American history might have been. And there are, to be sure, some very good ones still in print. But most of them, it appears to me, have been published in order to kill any interest that anyone might have in history. I think that students would be better served by cutting out all the pages, clipping up all the page numbers, mixing them all up and then asking students to put the pages back together in the right order. The textbooks are dreary, they’re done by committee, they’re often hilariously politically correct and they’re not doing any good. Students should not have to read anything that we, you and I, wouldn’t want to read ourselves. And there are wonderful books, past and present. There is literature in history. Let’s begin with Longfellow, for example. Let’s begin with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, for example. These are literature. They can read that too.

History isn’t just something that ought to be taught or ought to be read or ought to be encouraged because it’s going to make us a better citizen. It will make us a better citizen; or because it will make us a more thoughtful and understanding human being, which it will; or because it will cause us to behave better, which it will. It should be taught for pleasure: The pleasure of history, like art or music or literature, consists of an expansion of the experience of being alive, which is what education is largely about.

And we need not leave the whole job of teaching history to the teachers. If I could have you come away from what I have to say tonight remembering one thing, it would be this: The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home. We who are parents or grandparents should be taking our children to historic sites. We should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us. We should be talking about what it was like when we were growing up in the olden days. Children, particularly little children, love this. And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level. We all know that those little guys can learn languages so fast it takes your breath away. They can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away. And the other very important truth is that they want to learn. They can be taught to dissect a cow’s eye. They can be taught anything. And there’s no secret to teaching history or to making history interesting. Barbara Tuchman said it in two words, ”Tell stories.“ That’s what history is: a story. And what’s a story? E.M. Forster gave a wonderful definition to it: If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events. If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story. That’s human. That calls for empathy on the part of the teller of the story and of the reader or listener to the story.
"Condemn me not because of mine imperfection,... but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been." Mormon 9:31
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