“My American History:1962 version”

I have been reflecting on how history was taught to me. Writing about that will clarify further my responses to my recent history readings.

In 1962 I sat in assigned seats with about 25 other high school sophomores, a text similar to the one above in front of me before Mrs. L. with the same text open before her. We would have read several pages for our daily 55 minute class. She would talk over the same material. She didn’t expand on it, question it, or lead any discussion about it. She simply paraphrased the text. Every so often she would test us on our readings. The tests were usually multiple choice(The Missouri Compromise was about a. oxen, b. marriage,c. admitting new states to the Union,d. water rights.) I flew through the course, earning an “easy A” and assuming that I now knew American history.

EXCEPT–events that would prove to be seen as historic were taking place all around me. A Catholic had been elected President(he wasn’t killed until the following winter.) The Supreme Court had ordered that schools be racially integrated. Several years earlier troops had been brought into one state to enable “Negro” children to enter a high school. In May of the previous year our “advisors” to Viet Nam had increased. I learned all this from the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I talked about these things with my friends.

But at Lincoln High’s American History class none of it was ever mentioned. In fact we only made it as far as the Great Depression before our school year ended. Mrs. L. bemoaned that “once again she hadn’t taught us about World War II.” Of course many of our fathers had already experienced it. But they weren’t talking either.

11 thoughts on ““My American History:1962 version”

  1. I was in high school in the early seventies and had a very good teacher for U.S. history. It was either that class or Contemporary Problems, that we were required to participate in an election campaign. It was 1972, and I campaigned door to door at an apartment complex,for McGovern, until we were disallowed from doing so. That was my only participation in a campaign, even so I remember the experience well.

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  2. “History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” –Edward Gibbon, 18th century British historian and author of THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

    Unless we wake up, it may not be too long before some future historian will write THE DECLINE AND FALL OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.

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  3. Having a good teacher is everything, especially when it comes to studying history. I had one professor in college whose excitement for his subject was infectious because he was passionate about what he was teaching. He delivered his lessons in a folksy way, like he was telling a story, and there were many lively class discussions.

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  4. I agree that a good teacher is everything, for any subject of course. But presumably Mrs L was teaching the curriculum, which like mine, was narrowly focused. In primary school (aged 7 to 11) history was great fun, albeit purely British, in fact purely English. The early years in secondary were enlivened by some wonderful teachers. Then the exam syllabus kicked in and it became dry and even more narrowly focused. There are huge gaps in my knowledge of history especially when it comes to world history. As for events happening around me at the time, never mentioned. I’m guessing they would be called current affairs. Hence not history 🤔

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  5. Hi Elizabeth, I was also taught history from text books with little discussion or debate. We didn’t learn any current affairs either. This has changed now and my sons do outcomes based education which involves a lot of interpretation and discursive essay writing.

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  6. Wow – somehow we covered quite a bit more – but maybe not to the same depth- in our American history classes. I was also lucky in that we got a bit more information about some more progressive issues in class – things like what the US was up to in Latin America and a bit of the history of the labour movement. Probably in some places there these days a teacher would lose their job over it but lucky for me I had a good teacher and a school board and community that supported them.

    (And lucky me – in Grade 11 I took an elective “Canadian Studies”. Who knew that thirty years later it would help me pass my Canadian Citizenship test!?)

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