Telling Mr. Hand “Aloha”


My first attempt at blogging came several years before I started this blog, and I named it “AlohaSpicoli.” I’m not even inclined to provide a link here, but if anyone reads this and wants to go seek it out, be my guest. Just be aware that the guy writing those posts isn’t  much like the one who’s been writing this blog for a year and a half.

I liked the way that Mr. Hand returned Jeff Spicoli’s enthusiastic farewell sendoff with a tentative, just-go-on one of his own (it’s the last few seconds of the YouTube video, but the whole thing is also worth a watch). I was a teacher once–a history teacher, no less–and I understand where that comes from.

Students came to me in high school pretty well-formed in what they were. I could–and in hindsight, I did–blather on about facts and ideas that they weren’t interested in, for the most part. But when the time came, I realized that they were still who they were when they came in, and I had to move them along to whatever came next. It was something far less than what I had envisioned when I first decided to become a teacher.

Last night, my teenager was studying for an Imperialism test in her U.S. History class. The Platt Amendment was on her study guide, along with dozens of other terms that didn’t seem to relate to anything terribly important. I realized, as I’ve always known, that kids hate history because it places a premium on memorization. But the truth is that even if you know who Sanford Dole is, life doesn’t get any better for you, after the test is over.

As time goes on, the study of History gets more and more onerous. The old names and places and dates must still be memorized, but then more seemingly useless facts get piled on top of that. And nobody wants to suggest a different way of doing it, because nobody knows any other way of doing it. So here goes my idea.

People are people, no matter the time or the place. They all have wants and needs, desires and hopes, fears and  frustrations. The names of these things change, depending on where you are, but human nature doesn’t ever change. The internet gives everyone the chance to identify people, whether “sung or unsung” as President Obama put it in his inauguration address, and learn about and tell their stories. If it means you don’t learn Thomas Jefferson, but instead you learn about somebody who may have done something else of value, is anyone really harmed by that? And you’d have to prove it to me if you think that’s the case.

So long as students are forced to learn about the Platt Amendment, without giving any chance to learn about who Senator Platt actually was, then we shouldn’t be surprised that kids don’t know, or want to learn, very much about history.

I hope to live long enough to see some changes made in this regard. Perhaps it would then be time to tell Mr. Hand and the “Platt Amendment approach” to teaching history “aloha.” And that would be totally awesome.

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