By Ben Greenman
Kids study history. They go to school and learn about numbers for math and words for literature, but then those two roads converge in history. The Battle of Hastings was 1066. The Civil War ran from 1861 to 1865. Man went to the moon in 1969. Those numbers yoked to words seem like layered facts. In fact they are the opposite.
I have a kid. That kid studied history. He took exams where he was required to recall dates and places, dates and names, dates and events. No matter whether he conquered them or they conquered him, those exams left him cold. “I did well, Dad,” he said, depositing the paper on the table for me to sign. “I didn’t do so well, Dad,” he said, depositing the paper on the table for me to sign.
I have another kid. That kid studied history. He did not take exams where he was required to recall dates and places, dates and names, dates and events. His teacher refashioned history as a glowing line that wound through different places, names, and events like a live wire. The date sat atop the line like a suggestion. That kid did not take many exams at all. He wrote papers where he was required to trace that glowing line. It made him glow as well, no matter whether he mastered them or they mastered him. “I wrote about Ivan Krasnov,” he said. “He was a general for the Cossacks who defended Tagnarog but he also wrote articles. I wrote like I was him for this paper.”
The two kids are the same kid. The first transformed beautifully into the second. The first is now history.
What is the best way to teach?
Is every student different?
Ben Greenman is a NYT-bestselling writer and a contributing writer to the New Yorker. He divides his time between Brooklyn and Bergen County.