12 October 2012

Pondering With a Purpose - History Before It's Gone


This week, Brenda asked us to ponder history - do you or don't you?  And most of today, I've been pondering what to say about the prompt.  And I decided to tell you why I give history a chance.

See, history was always my least favorite subject in school.  We learned dry facts and numbers and they only stayed long enough for the test before flitting out of my brain.  When I moved to Florida from New York, I found out that they did world history as sophomores in my new school, whereas my old school did world history over a course of two years - freshman and sophomore.  Do you think I told them that I'd really only had 1/2 of world history when they saw that I had a credit in it?  Heck no!  I was getting to stay away from that dreaded class.

My junior year, however, I needed to take American History.  And, me being me, I wanted to that the Advanced Placement or Honors class rather than the general class.  The AP would give me college credits, and that would be really good.  But in order to get into the class, I needed to talk to the teacher, Ms. Simmons.  And she took a chance on me based on my grades in my other classes.

Ms. Simmons didn't just teach dates and names and dry, dry facts.  No, she taught that history can be fun, that it can come alive and that learning history could be just as much fun as reading a book.  After all, history is a story.  It's the story of those who came before us and what they went through.  How, then, was it any different from fiction?  Especially if the stories from history are well-told?

And Ms. Simmons was an excellent storyteller.  When we started the class, she started us in 1974 rather than at the "beginning".  As she explained to us, this is history that we'd lived through.  We would remember and be able to relate to a lot of the things that we were talking about then.  She also went through the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel point by point, telling us what each bit of the song meant.

And it didn't end there.  As we went through the years, we were given a chance to creatively present a certain topic in the history of the US.  One group did a video "news" report.  Another did a newspaper.  Our group set up stations outside, taking people through the "typical" day of someone travelling westward.  When we were learning about the 20s, she came in on roller skates, wearing a flapper dress and holding a long cigarette holder.  The next week, when we learned about the Great Depression, she came in wearing rags.  She put a sign on her desk and brought out apples.  The sign said, "Apples 5 Cents".  We got to watch The Maltese Falcon and got to learn which jelly beans to eat together to get a different flavor.  By the end of the year, it had become the one class I couldn't wait to get to.  I mean, I loved my music classes (choral and electronic music) and my math classes (I was a math geek), but those classes didn't offer the possibilities that American History did.  Every day, I wondered, "How is Ms. Simmons going to make history fun today?"

Now, over 20 years later, I've forgotten a lot of the facts that I knew then.  (I'd done well enough to get a 3 on the AP exam, which meant I got college credit for it.)  But what I can't forget is the way Ms. Simmons made me feel when it came to learning about history. And that, I think, was the most important thing about the class.  The facts will always be there.  I can look it up in any history text book, check the internet, whatever.  But the experiences that I had while learning from Ms. Simmons is something I'll never be able to forget.