Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Teacher Education - "Sell Them On History!"

Mr. James C. could be quite a cross to bear, yet I slogged through that first semester introductory course as best as I could.
I did not like this guy, and I am glad that he is now resting in peace. At the end of 2005, the man passed away from cancer. I think that with all his moving and shaking, his fretting about students over spring break, the man made the case that the teaching profession can kill you. It sure finished him off.
He was disorganized, and for no apparent reason other than that he had been teaching that introductory course as often as he had been doing it, with no relief in sight. He boasted about putting in fifty hours a week --- so much for summers off -- and he was juggling this after school class while teaching World History at Los Alamitos High School.
He was an older man, one who loved to deck himself in business casual attire.
He was a frenetic and jumpy man, one who loved to snap his fingers a lot, a man who was excited, I suppose, about everything that he was doing.
"You have to sell kids on History!" he would shout at us. "You have to get students interested in what you are teaching, make them want to learn what you have to tell them."

I ponder this trite little exhortation today, and I must declare that many students are so slippery in their solipsism, so self-absorbed with “I” -- Ipod, Ipad, Iphone, I-this, that, and I could go on. . . that the world outside of them and before them holds no meaning, they are so bombarded with the message their immediate needs -- many of which simply are not -- are more important than anything that the ancients of the moderns have taught. The whole program of modern education is now geared toward accommodating the prejudices of teenagers rather than challenging them, beating out of them the stuffy sophomoric rebellion of adolescent angst, and revealing to them a world beyond their petty and petrified thoughts and feelings.
History is for grown-ups, for men and women who have submitted themselves to values, to truth, to realities beyond sense and sensitivity, the unshakable certitude that we did not make ourselves, and that to dismiss this rectitude will relegate every one of us to a slavery of conformity and cowardly public opinion.
"Sell them on history" was quite an exhortation then, but whose history? The state has decided to gauge what we learn based on how large the role of the state has become in our populized democracy. The federal government pays for everything tinged with red ink, the legacy of a nation that made the apparatus of force more important than family, freedom, and faith.
"Sell them on history" is a sold-out cliche, one that holds no water, that provides no record beyond the relativist presuppositions of the elite intellectual classes of far-flung and declining universities.

Mr. C. probably had no respect or regret for teaching us a truism which had worn thin long before his hair line had disappeared into a fainted wisp. Still, I was sold on the venture at the time, never realizing that I would have to sell my soul, so it seemed, just to tolerate the legacy of disrespect and disrepute which has marred our public schools and has sent teachers fleeing into other careers.

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