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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Readers respond to history question



How would you change the way we teach history to our children? That's the question we posed to readers last week in the Forum cover essay "Don't know much about history." Here are some of your responses.

Too few incentives to care about history

Your Forum article last Sunday said that current high school graduates have little sense of our heritage and civic responsibility. That is due not only to the anti-American and anti-western bias in some history curriculums, but also because our society provides little reason for students to care about citizenship. Since native-born Americans are automatically granted all the rights and benefits of citizenship, without having to earn them, many take them for granted, and ignore civic duties. Similarly, if alien residents (legal and otherwise) are also given these same rights and government benefits as entitlements, what is the value of citizenship? Why learn U.S. history?

A glaring exception to this is the situation with naturalized U.S. citizens, who do, in fact, earn their citizenship. They must pass a citizenship test and take an oath of allegiance, in which they promise to " ...support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States...bear arms on behalf of the United States when required...perform non-combatant service in the United States Armed Forces when required...perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required...so help me God." Why should not all citizens be required to meet this same standard?

Mike Emerine, Springfield Township

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Public policy link mustn't be ignored

American history is some of the most fascinating history on our planet. The changes America has passed through are colossal accounts of struggle, endurance and succession. Schools have to provide better, more meaningful connections to this history. Students will respond and respect history when they are shown how similar events, for instance in 1920, are to today. Schools and students have to start asking how did we (historically) arrive where we are and what positive changes can be developed?

History and public policy go hand in hand and are absolute essentials because students will be taking on the biggest deficits in history and complex social and infrastructure problems. Testing standards and modes of teaching will have to change, allowing more freedom in learning the usefulness and practicality of American history and government.

Bradford Berman, Mason

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Social studies need new teaching methods

Lecture has traditionally been the most popular way to teach history in high school. But those days are in decline. Its rapid deterioration leaves teaching history in a temporary state of flux. That is why the emphasis needs to be placed on new methods of teaching.

History teachers need to experiment with effective and creative ways to convey history in engaging ways. Those ways need to be studied, improved, and shared. (Then), teachers need to combine these methods with our knowledge of human learning. We need to understand how the mind works so that we do not overload students with knowledge that they are just going to forget. Most importantly, the content needs to be relevant and have purpose.

If history is taught for history's sake, test scores will continue to decline. But if we can develop new (teaching) methods, combined with human learning and relevance, we can make learning history a very meaningful and powerful experience.

Aaron Hemmert, Clifton

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Stress balance in problems vs. benefits

History is exciting. It should be taught that way. No nation in the history of the world has made it possible to "secure the blessings of liberty" as has the United States, through its unique Constitution. Students should be given an appreciation of the philosophy of limited government and God-given rights, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Our Founding Fathers should be honored as among the wisest men in history.

Instead of emphasizing the problems in our history, let's study them in the context of their time and place in world history. A balance is needed, with an emphasis on the greatness of America.

Winnie Clayton, Anderson

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'Shakers of history' are not people

I teach 7th-grade history at Mount Healthy South Middle School. I do think there are a few key dates and people students should know, but history is so much more. It's the human story of us. Even if we are studying a group of people we may not be related to, nor that have an impact on U.S. history, we can still see some of us in them. I try to teach my students that people don't change.

What changes is our environment, technology and styles. What moved people to do the things they did in history are still the things that move us today to do what we do. I use a list in my class called "The Shakers of History." The "Shakers" are power, money, land, religion, glory, revenge, relationships, feuds and freedom. When we study a group of people, I have my students find out how those "Shakers" controlled or impacted what happened in history. We also look at how those same things are impacting what people do today. Students can then see patterns develop between different groups of people throughout time. Students also see history as being human, and not just facts that don't relate to them.

I also stress that a lot of history is opinion or interpretation. All of history is not fact. I also bring in different research resources for my students. We can look in one book and find one explanation for an historical event and then look in a different book and find a different explanation. Who is right? I let the students decide based on the research they do. As long as students can back up their ideas about history with data collected in their research, I am happy.

Scott Horstmeier, Colerain Township

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'History Jeopardy' would be fun learning

My daughter goes to a school in the Cincinnati Public School district. I asked her opinion on an effective way to teach history. Because teens like to play games, my daughter suggests "History Jeopardy" or other games mixed in with lectures in order to present challenge and competition. Also the impact and effect of past history should be made relevant to the present. Historical facts would be remembered and test scores should improve.

LaFawn Thomas, Pleasant Ridge

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Focus on victims robs us of heroes

Many problems with today's teaching of American history stems from our sudden need to be politically correct. Political correctness translates into an empathy with victimized groups of our past, be they women, blacks, American Indians, or others. The people who victimized these groups were, of course, white men - making them into oppressors of the oppressed. The problem with that approach is we no longer "celebrate" our past since our past leaders were mostly white men.

I have taken several history courses at Xavier University in recent years. The professors were intelligent and demanding. Unfortunately they follow the standard line of emphasis on oppressed groups rather than on past heroes. They teach history from the "bottom-up." What was it like being poor in America during the Revolution? What was it like being black or being a woman? What did the Revolution mean to the American Indian? Little is said about our founding fathers.

No "new standards" put forth by our government will improve our knowledge of the past. It is a new attitude in academia that is necessary - an attitude that will make our young people proud of their heritage - even if it means giving past white male leaders a little credit.

Roger Beller, Loveland

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Loss of memory is dangerous for nation

The nation's educational system, by failing to promote the study of history, is creating a society with no memory and without the ability to judge the political forces that relentlessly change our lives.

A brief study of those who founded this nation and forged the Constitution reveals that a deep understanding of human history from classical times through the rise of Western civilization resulted in the creation of a government designed to thwart the consolidation of power by government or dictators.

It was this profound understanding of human nature written in the pages of the past that established what is still the most revolutionary form of government the world has seen.

So shallow has become the collective memory of most Americans that political demagogues can reverse and contradict their own previous positions within several years without fear of being held to account while attacking their political opponents.

The failure of schoolchildren and adults in this country to remember even this most recent history of the iniquitous hypocrisy of one of America's once great political parties and the media's ugly chorus of forgetfulness is being watched closely by America's enemies, who remember history.

Matthew T. MacLeid, Cincinnati




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