This has been a long season of election material in the news. It has been history making for sure. It has also let me know that as a nation we have lost touch with our history and our government. There are many quotes about how we are doomed to repeat our past if we don’t remember it.
We, as teachers, share in this creation of repeating of history if we don’t find time to teach history, government and geography. In our test controlled classrooms we teach what is tested but that is having an effect on our society. If we don’t test social students and government it can easily get dropped from the elementary curriculum. If we can’t answer simple questions like who won the war between the states we are easily lead down a path of missteps and wrongful doings. ( to clarify -I am not asking to create national tests in social studies – I am just asking that it be taught.)
There are lots of ways to begin the learning of history in the elementary grades, well in any grade. One of them is to use historical fiction. There are lots of books now that fit into the genre and it is a perfect place to begin a history or government lesson or a lesson on facts and fiction – story and documentary.
I finished off two books this week. One a middle grade historical fiction called Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I also read an adult memoir by Michele Norris – The Grace of Silence.
Jefferson’s Sons takes us back to the plantation of Thomas Jefferson and the lives of his slaves. We see the world from the point of view of Jefferson’s slave children and what it is like at Monticello. It is a slow read but over time I become attacked to each slave and how they navigate their life.
These children know their father is Thomas Jefferson but they can not speak about it. They watch his other children play and enjoy his attention from afar.
They know their life is easier than many slaves, they know they may one day some of them may be free (some are lighter skinned than others) and yet they are still slaves. The struggle to understand and live in this mixed world is difficult. This man has written about freedom and yet he holds the lives of people in his hands as slaves.
This is a perfect books to step into the discussion of the United States history and the reach for freedom. We see the flaws in Thomas Jefferson. We learn the reality of slavery but we also see the wonderful family bond that these people of color had. They were smart, and crafty at finding ways to save money, learn to read and support each other when needed and to create freedom when possible.
This would be a good read aloud during the time you are teaching history. There are so many good places to discuss facts and fiction, to research what really happened, and to understand that people are a mix of good and bad. It is easy to see how the current time and environment also effected what a person could or could not do.
While reading this book on Jefferson’s time I was also reading Michelle Norris family memoir, The Grace of Silence, that takes us into the lives of blacks during World War II and the racial tensions in Birmingham, Alabama. We learn how the events in her family history – even though kept secret – have an affect on her life. History does make a difference in who we are and how our lives play out.
This book would work well in a high school history class. It is loaded with information that could be researched and discussed. Why do family members choose not to share certain events? How does this affect who they are or how a family works together? – are other questions that are raised in her writing.
These two books help open our thinking about the lives of people in our country. They share emotions, historical facts and understanding of how we all live and work within our family but need to know and be understanding of the lives of those around us.
We are all people. We need to learn how we are different and how much we are the same. We need to learn how our government was created and how it can be changed to make improvements to really support all people.