Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Yesterday I posted a personal memory from my life. From time to time I share personal stories and pictures with my students.

Why do I do this?

It's important for students to understand the importance of history in their own lives. History should not be a litany of dates and dead people. In the primary grades students learn where they fit into the planet's hierarchy. I want students to understand that they are a participant in a family that is is directly related to a community, a state, a nation, and ultimately the world. History involves the entire hierarchy.

Historical events, though they are on a grand scale, do trickle down to individuals. These events can be kept "alive" through story telling. In this way the stories travel through time and touch future family members for years to come.

For example, I was six months old when Kennedy was assassinated. Without my family stories I would be disconnected from the events. The assassination would simply be an event in my text that I am required to know to be successful on a test. However, I have a family story to connect with JFK's death.

My mother's mother passed away very unexpectedly a few days before the assassination. Through my mother's stories I have a direct emotional bond to events I took no part in. Mom shared that her grief was so consuming---so acute--- she sat in front of the television and watched every single moment of the JFK coverage to numb her loss by mingling it with the nation's. Through her story I have an emotional connection not only to the passing of my grandmother but the passing of a president as well.

As I related in my Easter story my children never knew their great-great grandmother, however, they know which rocker is hers and speak of her as if she recently passed away. Why do they do this? My father and I have passed along stories so my children can connect to an ancestor. By doing this not only do my children have a sense of continuity and a past they also can connect to moments in history. Granny was a child of Reconstruction. She lived before electricity and indoor plumbing. She experienced World War I and II, the Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam. Most importantly Granny experienced the fight for Civil Rights almost from its birth to the actual law and beyond. Her opinions can be expressed to her great-great grandchildren who can then have their very own primary source for understanding.

I try to get across to my students they are the next generation of keepers for the American story as well as their own personal family stories. They have a responsibility to collect family stories by listening when family members are gathered, by asking questions, and by encouraging older family members to tell their stories as well as identify people in family photos.

Encouraging students to connect their family history to the history in their textbooks provides meaning and importance for learning. It gives history a purpose.


NYC Educator said...

The older I get, the more importance I attach to history. I kind of regret that I didn't much appreciate it when I was studying it.

I like how you relate personal history to history in general. That might be a good approach to motivate your students.

Onyx said...

One year in a language arts class I required each of my student to write it a family legend. Sadly I got notes from parents saying their family had no stories or legends! I shared a few of my family stories. I'm afraid years from now several people will think they had a great aunt Essie, but won't be able to find her on their family tree!

By the way her siblings opened her presents and replaced them with cold corn bread and ashes (just so you don't wonder)

EHT said...

NYC---I really don't know any other way to relate to history. It's all about making connections. If we can't connect to something it holds no importance to us.

Onyx---I feel your pain. I've taught LA for 7 years----one year I asked students to bring in a family recipe. We were going to make a classroom cookbook. Three students out of 25 brought one in. Apparently no one has relatives who make old time "favorites" anymore. Hmmmm....maybe I should post on this.

TAP teacher said...

Wow! I did the classroom cookbook thing with my 6th graders, too. They seemed very eager to do it, but only about 4 students brought stories and recipies. Of those 4, only about two had special recipies by special relatives. The other two just brought "a" recipe with no family story or special person that makes it.
This is sad. We need for families to build these rich family ties. Students need ROOTS. Students need a family support group. These are beginning to fade as the traditional family unit is changing.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

My kids asked today about whether stories from my life could end up on the final-- such as no clue about why people adored Kennedy, remember the moon landings, was home when Challenger exploded, etc.

Of COURSE I said yes.... Keeps 'em on their toes. I also told them it always amazes me when I begin teaching historical events I actually remember. A real sign I'm an old fossil....