I am currently reading an excellent account of the Red River Campaign titled, Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaign, 1863 -1864. The book, part of the Voices of the Civil War Series, is edited by Gary D. Joiner. I will be writing a review of it for The Southern Historian next month. Joiner gives a perspective of the campaign from a very personal level using both civilian and military sources. I’ll have more on the book once I’m finished.
On to another matter that vexes me, this is my second semester teaching history at two local community colleges. This past summer I taught a Civil War and Reconstruction class; currently, I am teaching two America since Reconstruction classes. This past Wednesday, 17 September 2008, I asked a class of twenty-five students if they could tell me what took place on this day – even offering not to give a quiz if one person could respond. Not one student could answer the Battle of Antietam or America’s bloodiest day. A couple of weeks ago a student commented that she never knew Lincoln was assassinated. Now I understand that history is not for everyone, especially in community colleges where most students take history as a mandatory elective rather than an interest in the subject. However, this lack of basic American history knowledge must stem from the grammar/high school level. Are high school students still required take American history? Are students just being pushed through?
Coincidentally, this week I was lecturing on J.P. Morgan and the rift between capitalists and the labor force that formed in the late nineteenth century. I was able to tie this in with the current crisis on Wall Street. I could not think of a better example as to how history is so relevant to today’s world. History needs to become a more integral part of our education system perhaps that is an issue the current presidential candidates should be debating.
I teach American History part time at a two-year college as well and I couldn’t agree with you more. Don’t get me wrong, some students are great and I can actually see progress in their work and their grades. However, there are some who are just plain ignorant and refuse to even attempt to study. It is very frustrating at times I can tell you!
I know that frustration, believe me. I just try to learn something new about teaching each semester to try and make it more interesting. I have resigned myself to the fact that not everyone loves hisotry (A scary thought I know!)
Yes, high school juniors are still taking history but times have changed. When I was in school we weren’t able to sleep in class, disrupt the class, make remarks in class (you know what I mean). Kids can basically do what ever they want because they know they can get away with it now. Teachers hate it and most parents don’t care what their child does. My daughter is a civil war buff and has been for most of her reading life. She’s a Senior in high school. Last year she was about the only one that could answer about every question her history teacher threw out. Plus when it comes to American history teachers have to cram in so much that they can’t spend very long on some topic.
My brother is also a high school history teacher. I don’t know how he does it. I’d probably kill the first student that fell asleep in class.
Hat’s off to all you teachers!