My primary goal as a history teacher is to help my students become better communicators and self-advocates.
In history classes we teach our students to read and write, to make oral presentations, to analyze primary and secondary sources, and to use evidence. In short, we teach them a variety of ways to make sound, convincing arguments. The actual content is primarily important as a platform to teach these skills–as something that we can, as a class, investigate and then argue about. What really matters is that my students walk out the door, everyday, a little bit better at expressing themselves, and a little bit better about understanding how to advocate for themselves and for their beliefs.
As a result, I would much rather study the history that my students find interesting, rather than stick to old-fashioned notions of what is “important.” If students are encouraged to engage with their own family and community histories, they will discover connections to a huge range of historically important events. Many of them will have grandparents and neighbors who either fought in wars, or protested against them. They will find connections to New Immigration, the Great Migration, or Japanese Internment. A world history class can adapt their discussions about decolonization to the global impacts of the Cold War to fit the backgrounds of the students in the class. After all, history is most interesting when we have a personal connection–when it is our own history, and not someone else’s.
By studying history that the students feel a personal connection to, it also becomes easier to convince them to care, and to encourage them to take a stand on the important issues.