History classes are not given enough attentions as they deserve. As Perrotta and Bohan (2013) put it, in U.S. high schools, “[h]istory is one of those subjects on the school curriculum that has consistently suffered from negative perceptions”. Perhaps it’s hard to change the policy and the course standards of history education, but it does not mean that there’s no way to make history classes more interesting and effective.
There are countless comments online from U.S. middle and high school students, suggesting that history is boring and irrelevant to contemporary life. Despite the fact that American Historical Association (1909) already established a century ago that “the accumulation of facts is not the sole, or perhaps not the leading, purpose for studying history”, for some unaccountable reason, “it has been held that boys and girls must not think about historical material, or be taught to reason or be led to approach events with the historical spirit" (DiCamillo, 2010).
People may ask questions such as, “Why are history classes important?” or “Why do we need to learn about the past?”. According McNeill (1989), “ [h]istorical knowledge is no more and no less than carefully and critically constructed collective memory … [that] make us wiser in our public choices and more richly human in our private lives”. History classes could play a significant role in the construction of students’ personal and cultural values that may subconsciously impact the choices they make decades into the future. Learning from history not only allows one make smarter choices, but also prevents him from making consequential mistakes, which otherwise can cost him huge amount of time and fortune to correct. In other words, knowing history prepares the students for future occasions when history repeats itself. By carefully plotting the trends of the past, many historians believe that individuals can make intelligent estimates of the probable broad trends of the future (Laushey, 1988). That’s why it is vital for high school students to understand the importance of history classes and to make use of it in the real world.
Furthermore, history does not simply mean stories that narrate a series of major historical events that took place in random places and time. It is more of a sequence of causes and effects that are intervened together, an onion waiting for the readers to peal. Whenever a historical character is making a decision, he is involving his rationale and emotions in the process. Much powerful as he may be, he is under constant pressure to find himself a balance between his ambition and the constrains he is facing, between the good of the many and his selfish intentions, and between the different interest groups. However, for most times, “history is presented to students as a compilation of facts and dates” (Joseph, 2011). Not only does more time in history classes are being distributed into US history than world history, the “leftovers” for world history is usually filled with Eurocentric materials. As world historians Andre Frank and Barry Gills (1993) note:
[W]e should discard the usual western, Eurocentric rendition of history, which jumps discontinuously from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt, to classical Greece and then Rome, to medieval Western Europe, and then on to the Atlantic West, with scattered backflashes to China, India, etc. For meanwhile all other history drops out of the story. or some people and places never even appear in the history, unless they are useful as a supposedly direct descendant of development in the West. (p.16)
These Americentric (and Eurocentric) course contents blind teachers by facilitating a “fragmented and biased” approach that produces an Americentric view “over interpersonal global, world, or international perspectives” (Carpenter, 2011).
With all being said above, it is safe to conclude that history classes in middle school and high school could benefit from a more interest-stimulating, student-engaging, and perspective-sharing instructional design.