They say those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
I'd suggest that those who forget the past are missing some really good stories, and a wonderful window into human whys and wherefores that are integral to understanding our present.
History is, at best, understated in many public educational institutions and a challenge in any venue, given the depth and breadth of our rich and complicated past.
Fortunately, there are as many ways to teach history as there are lessons to be learned from it.
"It's called history for a reason," says Alan Kay, an award-winning Dunedin High School history teacher and a children's history series author.
History presented as story gives history a meaning and depth that textbooks can't approach, and really engages students in a way that captures their imaginations and stimulates their intellects. It's the ultimate multidisciplinary study.
"The way I've always seen history is that history is the central subject to everything," says Kay, who shared his views at a recent Home Learning Network meeting in Carrollwood. "I like to put it together as a big picture."
Kay's series, Young Heroes of History (White Mane Kids publishing), gives young readers a look at the Civil War through the experiences of people their own ages and provides comprehensive lesson plans for children and their families to learn more about a variety of aspects of that time. Kay is four books into the 10-book series, with Send 'em South, On the Trail of John Brown's Body and Off to Fight already out in bookstores. The fourth book, Nowhere to Turn, is due soon. Kay believes storytelling is the ultimate way to teach and enjoy history.
"Texts should supplement books and stories, not the other way around," he says.
There are all sorts of ways to teach and learn about history, says Kay. Among the most reliable and engaging are diaries, historical fiction and movies, although he cautions a healthy skepticism regarding films because "all films have historical inaccuracies."
Select your books carefully, too. Good recommendations can be found from the National Conference for Social Studies Notable Children's Book suggestions, Newberry Book Awards lists and similar well-respected children's literature organizations. Steer clear of what Kay calls "media blitz" juvenile pulp fiction books.
A good place to check the facts, says Kay, is to use bibliographies, Internet resources such as historical museums, the National Parks services resources and regional resources.
"If you're interested in the California Gold Rush, find San Francisco museum links," says Kay. "If you're researching European history, visit the London museum online."
The Tampa Bay area is rich in history resources, from Cracker Country at the Florida Fairgrounds to Heritage Village in Largo. Living history programs treat visitors to these historical villages to the work, crafts, art and life of turn-of-the-previous-century Florida life. Brooksville annually reenacts Civil War battles, and similar reenactments are held elsewhere in the state.
A great national resource with local affiliates is the National History Day program (http://www.nationalhistoryday.org/).
Locally, the Florida History Fair (http://www.dhs.pinellas.k12.fl.us/ Historydaysite/index.htm), coordinated by Kay and hosted by Dunedin High School, will provide a great look into our past. The fair will be held March 19 at the high school, and this year's theme is Rights and Responsibilities in History.
So if your children complain that history is dull, grab a good book or go show them some of the many living history resources we have all around us, and help put the story back in our past.
Information at your fingertips
Internet Resources: Visit Alan Kay's Young Heroes in History Web site at:
http:// www.youngheroesofhistory.com/ to find lesson plans and links to valuable resources. Other good Web sites include:
History Net: http://www.historynet.com/
Art History Network: http://www.arthistory.net/
World Wide Virtual Library of History: http://www.ku.edu/history/VL/
Ancient World Web: http://www.julen.net/aw/
Internet Modern History Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/ halsall/mod/modsbook.html/
PBS History page: http://www.pbs.org/ neighborhoods/history.