Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's not what we knew, but when we knew it

This isn't a politically motivated post. Rather, it focuses on a different aspect of learning.

I've often written (ranted, complained, whined) about the change in educational focus as regards to English and reading. It would be remiss of me not to mention that my education was lacking in History.

I've often listened to a news report that would that would refer to past events or leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and wish I could make the connection. Unfortunately, between memorizing when Magellan crossed the equator and learning about emerging countries in high school, there is a blur where there should be facts. Having A's on report cards for Algebra and Geometry have surely helped in my work career, and I wouldn't trade my comfort with numbers for anything. But I wish I knew more about the New Deal, the Cuban missile crisis, WWI and WWII, the settling of the Northwest territories and Alaska, French and Italian governments (I vaguely remember Charles DeGaulle), and why the troubles began (and continue) in several African countries. I often wonder what finer points I've missed due to this weak spot in my education.

I've been stocking up for winter. Putting in supplies to keep me going. However these supplies are fuel for my mind instead of my body. History books. I've been gathering some older secondhand books and hope to have a small collection of 15 to 20 by November. Chances of reading all of them by spring are light, but I plan to read some and use others as starting points for future research. This is my collection as of today:

Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal (Wm E Leuchtenburg)
The Wilderness Hunter (Theodore Roosevelt)
The Roosevelt I Knew (Frances Perkins)
The Story of America in Pictures (Alan Collins)
The March of Democracy (James Truslow Adams) 2 volumes
A History of the United States (Wade, Wilder, Wade) a schoolbook

Of these, I would begin with The Story of America in Pictures and A History of the United States. I will also use the resources at the local library. Any suggestions of reading material will be welcomed and added to my "wish list."

Realistically, I will not be able to read these cover to cover, but I'll focus on the areas (eras) where my knowledge is the weakest.

The Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting a colder winter for the Northeast. I plan on being ready.

What a beautiful end-of-summer Sunday morning! It's quiet here except for the falling acorns. Later I'll be going for a ride at the shore, then baking some whole wheat bread and crackers. Rest and Relaxation. I hoping you have a peaceful day, too!


Brad K. said...

Remember the old saw, that histories are written by the winners.

Until the last decade or less, the New Deal was popularly regarded as effective. Today similar policies are quite apparently wrecking the country, and nay-sayers at the time are shown today to be correct and sensible. Even though the current administration is following those same goals. Just be careful to discern the facts of history, which get murky when interpreting economic impacts and relevance.

High school and many college texts are sold based on marketing - or specific contextual slants chosen by significant market niches.

And don't forget the library, and inter-library loan. There can be a very large selection of titles available, beyond what you find in used book stores or flea markets. Plus, in this Internet age, we cannot afford to let our librarians get lonely - the time is coming when we will need their horded knowledge as much as ever in the past. The library - not just a place to drop the kids when you go shopping.

I had a US History teacher, at East Tennessee State University, state to the class, that President McKinley was the first President elected after women got the right to vote, and that women elected McKinley, "because he looked like a President." Every author chooses what to include in a book, every publisher edits, and viewpoints get expressed.

There was a book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. (E. D. Hirsch Jr., 1987, ISBN 0-395-43095-X) you might find interesting. You might also try making a timeline - maybe blocked off by President or year, and list what you consider significant things. Working digitally - the writer function in, Microsoft Word, or other text program - lets you insert and expand stuff in the middle without redoing paper lists. Others have used note cards to accumulate and organize data and facts and insights.


Mary said...

I'm going to restrain myself from replying to Brad's unproven assertion above. I'm also going to respect your blog space and not include my own political agenda in this comment!

You might enjoy adding in some video from PBS:

Enjoy your learning!

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Hello Brad,
Thanks for stopping by and bringing up some interesting points!

I can't make any claims about the New Deal, but that is one topic on my list to learn about. Do you mean that the CCC and the WPA were economically unwise? Didn't they put people to work who would otherwise have done without?

I've heard that today's textbooks slightly favor certain viewpoints, but I don't think that applies to ones printed, say, before 1980?

McKinley being elected because of his image? That conjures up the Nixon/Kennedy debate. I don't know if the power of the women's vote for McKinley could be proven, but all today's politicians know the value of a good press manager. I'm amused how that position has become so important. Cabinet members with overseas expertise used to be more important. Silly and sad, isn't it?

I will definitely take your advice about notes, from cards to tech, and the timeline! And I'll borrow the book from the library. I'm a great fan of our public libraries! My card is good at any one in the state, and I regularly use three in and near my city.

I hope you'll stop back again soon.

Hi Mary,
I understand your feelings, and Thank You for your respect. I welcome all opinions, as long as they are respectful.

Now, I will be looking for this video tonight. I appreciate the link! (You may or may not know that I cut the cable cord in March, so an occasional documentary is relaxing.) A cuppa tea, a cookie, and PBS. A good way to end this beautiful day!

Maria said...

I know more about the 19th century, than I do about the 20th century...I'm not sure if it was because I thought the 19th century was more interesting or maybe I just had a better teacher for that part of history??!! I remember bits and pieces of history and I think I learn more every time I read a novel set in a historic time period (although who knows how much truth is in the historical novel). But anyways, that said, libraries are the best place to get your information. I am on my local public library board, so if you can't get something at your library, let me know and I'll try to get it for you from this end of the state!!

Wendy said...

My history education was lacking, too, but I feel like I've really made some progress over the past few years in educating myself :). It wasn't through history textbooks, though, because I feel like the books our school children read are incredibly biased in favor of making governments look good. For instance, if you read the old history books, you'll discover that Chief Joseph was a renegade and a murderer, and he spearheaded a bloody and difficult war against the United States military, when in fact, that's only partially true.

What I've found is that some of the best histories are actually masquerading as fiction ;). I think Jean Auel did an amazing job with researching Clan of the Cave Bear and since reading her book I've seen half a dozen documentaries, most of which support the descriptions she gives on prehistoric life. If you're interested in European histories, you could check out books like Les Miserable and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Another favorite is to find period histories written by contemporary authors that focus on just one period of time. Typically, what you get is a whole lot of information about a single time period, which is much better, in my experience, than a lot of little pieces of information about a broader period of time. One really good book about the Great Depression is Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time. I, also, very much enjoyed Ghost Soldiers about the Bataan Death March - simply fascinating. The Lost German Slave Girl is an incredibly interesting story by itself but the glimpse into what New Orleans (and the US) was like in the early 19th century was invaluable.

My absolute favorite types of histories though, are the ones told by the people who lived them. Like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place about her experience in the Danish underground during WWII and Goodbye to Mermaids about living in Berlin during WWII. Angela's Ashes is one of my favorite stories, and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight was a fascinating look at a white African woman growing up at a time when the Africans were starting to push back against European colonialism.

So many books ... so little time :).

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

I think our state libraries are among the best. My local branch has been able to get on loan any of the titles I've requested, as long as they are in state. If I run up against any problems, I will definitely contact you. Thank you! And thanks for serving on the board of your local library.

Hi Wendy,
"histories written by contemporary authors that focus on just one period of time." - you just answered the question that's been on my mind. A newer book would take a more distanced look, where a book written just after the timepoint would tell a more detailed view of what life was like at the time.

I read The Worst Hard Time, and consider it one of the best things I've read. I also read Skye, a true account of a young girl helping Jewish citizens escape during WWII. I've added your other titles to my wishlist.

I think I'll use the textbooks as a brief introduction or "overview", and let them serve as a timeline. For each section, or event, I'll find a resource to explore it, whether reference book, novel, or video!

Thanks, again!