Making History Interesting
Pam Creason, M.Ed.
Recent years have seen many news and education magazines with articles lamenting the fact that the knowledge of American students in history, geography, and other social studies areas is pitifully meager. This situation, along with common attitudes of disdain or disinterest for the subjects, reflects some problems that have been growing in public education for years, and unfortunately, some of the same problems have been perpetuated by Christian schools. Among these problems have been a comparative neglect of social studies education on the elementary level and the mishandling of social studies courses on the secondary level. Those of us who recognize the serious consequences of this poor treatment of the subject have a special obligation to make sure our Christian school students are not cheated out of an extremely important part of their Christian education.
The first thing we can do to make our own social studies teaching more effective is to understand that our responsibility is great. History and other related subjects help the student to learn about the world God has placed him in, about examples and lessons from the past, and about present concerns for life. No other subject, apart from the Bible itself, offers such great opportunities to develop a proper Christian philosophy in the student toward the many social issues that he will face in life. If the student does not develop biblically based values and perspectives, will it be a surprise if he makes unwise decisions in political, economic, and other social realms as an adult? Will Christian education be a success if we teach the student how to read, write, add and subtract but fail to teach him how to apply the Word of God to the challenges of living with more than five billion other people in this world? Public schools are certainly using social studies classrooms to dispense humanistic attitudes toward the wide avenue of issues that this part of the curriculum touches. Mass media add to the negative influence, and it reaches our Christian school students as well. It is up to us as Christian school teachers to provide a biblically based, informed social studies emphasis so that our students will not stumble into the snares and pitfalls common in this field.
Second, we must strive to make our social studies classrooms as interesting for the students as possible. History classes and other social studies classes have gained a reputation as being boring classes where the teachers do nothing but lecture in a monotone and give tests. Social studies need not be dull and lifeless, and it is our fault if we let it remain so. There are two major ways that we may add some zip to our courses. One is by increasing our own enthusiasm, and the other is by using materials and methods that will help us increase student interest.
No matter what our social studies background, we social studies teachers can and should be increasing our own knowledge in our field. Our students will naturally look to us for opinions and guidance in matters of history, government, economics, etc. If our ideas are limited to those found in our class notes or in the textbook, we are telling our students that learning more is not important. Reading history books, current events articles, travel brochures about foreign lands, and other related materials, however, will help to keep our outlook fresh and vibrant. On the elementary level, teachers may add to their knowledge in a field such as early American history by simply choosing appropriate books on that subject to read to their classes. Educational programs, visits to historic sites, and other simple avenues of enhancing our social studies knowledge are also available to us. The wider our reading an experiences grow, the greater our own interest and excitement for the subject will become. Understandably, the students will notice our enthusiasm for the world of knowledge social studies has to offer, and that enthusiasm may rub off.
Prepared social studies teaching materials are often scarce, and many that are for sale are inappropriate for the Christian classroom. That leaves us with most of the work required for making the presentation of social studies to our students interesting. Nonetheless, there are many alternatives to a dry lecture or a repetitious listing of the facts. Perhaps the prime rule to remember is that we should never use only words to describe a part of our lesson when something or someone is available to enhance that description. For instance, we could bring some arrowheads to an elementary classroom to show while we discuss the way the Indians lived, or we could ask an airplane pilot to bring his navigational maps to our geography class and explain how he uses them. Also we should remember to use a variety of activities to encourage student participation in our social studies class. Games, films, simulations, oral reports, group projects, etc., are all possible activities to include occasionally. We can further our cause of gaining our students' attention by taking advantage of their natural interests to steer them into an enthusiasm for social studies. An interest in cars, for example, can by utilized with research into the history of the automobile or the economics of the automobile industry.
There are only a few ideas that may be effective in your particular situation. The possibilities for methods of teaching social studies and helping your students remember what they learn are almost unlimited. Unfortunately, we will never be able to make all of our students "love" social studies. But even so, it will be our fault and their great loss if we give them reason to disdain it.
Reprinted from Balance, a publication of the School of Education, Bob Jones University. Used with permission of Bob Jones University. Please write BJU Press, for permission to reproduce this article.