I love History

carson

Above: Picture by student Shelby See. My t-shirt was given to me as a gift by student Nico Zulli.

While reflecting on the nature of my calling (it is not a job – yet), I read a book by Donald Kennedy called Academic Duty. In chapter ten of this work, Kennedy makes a nice analogy to the process of doing academic work. Here is the anecdote: “Three baseball umpires are in a bar engaged in a tipsy reminiscence about how good they were. ‘I called ’em as I saw ’em,’ the first one says. The second, after a brief pause, tops it: ‘I called ’em as they were.’ The third umpire reflects for a while, takes another pull on his Scotch, and says firmly, ‘They weren’t nothing ’till I called em.’ What makes this anecdotal tale so great is the fact that it is so true, especially when studying history. Better yet, it is true in everyday life. I hope that my students will understand that the study of history is a complex element that is constantly changing. Some might say that history is the past thus it cannot change; however, I like to ask students the question of whose history are we discussing and who is telling the account? In a similar fashion to what the umpires addressed above, we all see and study events from various different views. Some of us like to write history as we have come to see it. Others have and will write history the way it is, which is difficult to define. And the rest of us will turn seemingly nothing into history.

Those students who have been a part of my classes know that history is a complex process that must constantly be revisited. I like to teach that America was not founded by those who sought to establish their own religious freedom, but by those who wanted the same thing they were fleeing: conformity, power, and wealth. If this type of historiography sounds a bit Marxist,  it is not. Of course David Horowitz, the conservative writer, would disagree. History should be taught from multiple POVs. In doing so, students must understand that history is not always a pretty picture. If by studying history one starts to feel uncomfortable – good, he/she probably learned something new.

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17 thoughts on “I love History

  1. I imagine that studying history is much like studying literature; it is what it is, but it doesn’t really MEAN anything until the individual engages with it.

    One of the (many) things that thrills me about my teaching practice is that I get to engage in my discipline with a lot of different people – people who bring a gorgeous (and sometimes exceedingly frustrating) array of thoughts, ideas, prejudices, and perspectives to our collective table. I learn FAR more from the people I work with than I ever have from the words on a page. This is also the reason I adore blogging; interaction with others (who are willing to engage in thoughtful, reasoned discourse, of course) allows me access to things I likely never would have come to on my own. It is this intellectual expansion (and the geeky thrill I get from it) that keeps me so deeply in love with teaching.

  2. I find it laughable that people would try to associate negative connotations with power and wealth and therefore try and paint the picture of our founders and past presidents as people with an inquenchable hunger for domination. By extension, I would think that most business owners, city founders, even new families can easily associate with such people. Most businesses are started by people who found their previous line of work unfulfilling or found that they really hated the way that their boss did things. Thus, they go off and start their own company and keep much of the same structure that the previous had, only that person is in charge now. The same is with families and cities alike. Likewise, for those same communists who think of our system as a fraud and flawed in its capitalistic infrastructure, I would like them to try and write similar works of defamation in countries like China where communism does exist, or in Islamic radical countries for that matter. If they did not change their tune quickly, have no doubt that the government would change it for them.

  3. “I find it laughable that people would try to associate negative connotations with power and wealth and therefore try and paint the picture of our founders and past presidents as people with an inquenchable hunger for domination.”

    Having an “unquenchable hunger for domination” is how you get to the top. Everyone in a leadership position, whether it is in a school, business, charity, etc. is there because they like to be in charge and do not have a problem with screwing a few people on the way up. And I do believe that (excessive) power and (excessive) wealth are VERY negative things.

    “Most businesses are started by people who found their previous line of work unfulfilling or found that they really hated the way that their boss did things”

    Actually, I would say that most businesses are started by people who want to make more money. When you run your own business, you can keep all the money for yourself instead of paying your employees who actually do most of the work.

  4. Carson, although I know you love to use your academic wiles to shape history, I hate to break it to you, but you cannot change history to the way you like to see it. Just some tough love. Love ya man.

  5. I think I shall put my two cents in…I think having lots of money is a good thing, if you worked hard for every penny of it. People that work hard deserve money. Simple as that. Yay Jenny!

    Oh, and that shirt is BOSS.

  6. Carson, why do so many adolescents say they “hate” history? I’ve always found it fascinating, and still do. That said, I had neither the most inspiring nor intelligent teachers. For real. And this on which students hinge their like or dislike – for history, or any other academic discipline.

    So, how can we inspire an affinity and appreciation for the learning of history which is independent of and separate from whether or not a student “likes” his teacher?

  7. missprofe: I think that you misunderstand most of our comments. We are neither hostile, nor stating our opinions in a hostile manner. Mr. Carson encourages us to challenge his way of thinking (it keeps life interesting). Additionally, I would venture to say that anyone visiting this blog is a fan of history, not apathetic students.

    Dillon: “Having an ‘unquenchable hunger for domination’ is how you get to the top.” Ah….and herein lies the myth. People at the bottom have etched into the minds of so many that they are merely victims of circumstance, not victims of their own behavior. They don’t want to believe that they simply are not trying hard enough to accomplish their goals, and thus fall into a cycle of self pity. Self-failure is the only way in which someone in America cannot accomplish a goal that they set for themselves. So many blame racial, social, and political barriers for their position. Well, an “African” American just was elected into the most powerful position in the world. They want to believe that they are not able to get health insurance and so they expect the government to provide it for them. They want to believe that they cannot get a good education and thus want the government to provide it for them. All the while, they are sitting in some form of shelter, with a television (probably cable), and with some form of transportation to use (be it public or private). There is no right to health care, higher education, or a house. If you aren’t born into wealth, then tough luck, you could have been born in worse circumstances (maybe could have even been aborted). You are going to have to pave your own avenue to success, no matter how difficult that may be. Maybe that is politically incorrect and maybe it makes most people feel sad, but as Christians, we also have to accept the harsh realities in life and provide out of love, not force. For even Christ acknowledged that there will always be poor among you (John 12:8). Socialism and Communism have never led to an increase in the efficiency and workings of society. They only lead to trouble because of many people who would love to have something for nothing.

    You also stated, “Actually, I would say that most businesses are started by people who want to make more money. When you run your own business, you can keep all the money for yourself instead of paying your employees who actually do most of the work.” Uh yeah, you can keep all the money for yourself if you are a total idiot. Do you honestly believe that most owners of big and small businesses got to that position by paying their employees a small paycheck. No, they realize that they have to pay their employees well and hope that this returns an investment. Secondly, I hardly believe that military generals and honest businessmen got into their positions through “screwing” others (maybe politicians do, but not honest tradesmen). It is kind of like that one kid in elementary school who would get the teacher in such a bad mood that she would give the entire class time-out at recess instead of just him. We have come to believe that big business is evil because they don’t provide enough to our government. Guess what, most of Obama’s cabinet wasn’t giving anything to our government until they were offered a position. Thus I again find it laughable that you would be upset that business owners take a portion of what their employees make for them. I certainly don’t see governmental officials helping me type numbers into a computer but they certainly dont have a problem taxing me for it.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  8. “People at the bottom have etched into the minds of so many that they are merely victims of circumstance, not victims of their own behavior.”

    Au contraire, my friend. Behavior is a direct result of circumstance. One’s behavior changes based on their environment. People who grow in middle to upper class communities, like you and I, have been taught that it is important to do well in school, go to college, get a good job, and buy a nice house in suburbia with a minivan in the driveway. Because that’s what our parents did. And thus, your behavior would reflect this environment. But, if you lived in a very poor community, where you were taught that government does not care about you, school doesn’t matter, and the only way you will make money is by becoming a rapper, athlete, or drug lord, then your behave differently. Poverty is a cycle, and it takes a VERY strong and intelligent person (like President Obama) to get out of it. Yes, it does happen, but it is the exception rather than the rule. I am sure that someone who has studied psychology/sociology could explain this better than I did.

    “Socialism and Communism have never led to an increase in the efficiency and workings of society. They only lead to trouble because of many people who would love to have something for nothing.”

    Look at most of Europe and China.

    “Do you honestly believe that most owners of big and small businesses got to that position by paying their employees a small paycheck.”

    In the grand scheme of things, the employees paychecks might not be small. However, compared to the paychecks of their bosses, they are. I don’t have a problem with employers taking a chunk of what their employees make for them. However, when the boss is making $600,000/year and the employee makes $50,000, something isn’t right.

  9. Oh, I have gotten a good number of chuckles out of this debate. Allow me to add another nickle of thoughts. First off, I wasn’t fortunate enough to be born into a middle-class household. Growing up just two blocks south of Acres Homes taught me many lessons, one of which was that I wanted to get my family out of such a predicament in the future. Sure, I knew of basic politics and social interaction (my democratic father and republican mother fought about it constantly), but I never knew why people acted the way that they did. Barely a night went by when you couldn’t hear a stray gun shot in the distance and police sirens going off constantly. Mind you that it was not South Chicago, but it surely wasn’t Cypress either. Rather than embrace the culture I grew up in, I decided that I didn’t want to grow up in the same fashion and decided that school was where to do it. I never felt sorry for myself because I had “fallen through the cracks” of our government or because I would probably not be able to attend college without accruing some debt, but I was willing to do whatever it takes to improve my families standard of living.

    The rest of the story I’ve talked much about on this blog. My stepfather is a magnificent man who has provided more for me than I ever could have provided for myself. I tell you this because I know how difficult of a cycle poverty is, but I also know that you cant expect others to do for you what you are not willing to do for yourself. I have the fortune of going to HCHS because I showed dedication to my school work. If more kids were to realize the fact that America is a land of opportunity, and not a place that is bent on destroying their progress in the world, then our country could regain the prosperity that it enjoyed before the housing bubble exploded.

    And by the way, China is not technically Communist anymore. There are large fluctuations in how much people higher in the government make than the lower end laborers, and that doesn’t even include the fact that they have a labor force of 800,000,000 and only a GDP of $3,500,000,000 USD. You do the math, that’s about four thousand dollars per person. If you think that that is successful, then you might as well let the eTrade baby manage your stock portfolios. And, um, European socialism was a dramatic failure. Have you never heard of the dramatic problems in Poland during the 1980s? Here’s a joke that was told during the time period. Question: How many poles does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: five, one to stand on a ladder and five to pick the ladder up and rotate it. Sure it is a harsh joke about living conditions from the time, but the truth is that under the communist regime, Poland was so desperate to create jobs for people that many inane jobs like that were created. Additionally, because everything was created on a set quota system, socialist command economies could not accurately predict spending trends and therefore often created surpluses of things that just weren’t in demand and as a result could not make rational economic decisions (Just ask Metty about the Russians and xylophones).

  10. Oh, and I think that as long as you are providing jobs for people, it shouldn’t matter what you provide for yourself as compensation. You own the company, manage the people, and worked hard to make your way to such a position. Between managing your workers, paying the bills, and meeting with potential business partners for future opportunities; if your company revenue justifies such a salary, it is perfectly within your rights to pay yourself a $600,000 dollar per year salary. You know a startling statistic? President Obama would have to confiscate every dollar of salary over $75,000.00 to break even on this new porkulus bill. Considering you live in a nice neighborhood, probably in a $250,000+ house, drive a modestly nice car, and take numerous vacations around the world; with a salary like that, it looks like you would have to give up a lot of those things and change your standard of living to ensure that people get free tattoo removal.

  11. Carson I have to agree with Scott in part. Last year in Apush i thought that you did a good job of showing the true side of things, but this year in Ap Euro I have to disagree with your use of Marxist historiography to color the french revolution. Isn’t that trying to change history a little to much?

  12. Daniel-
    1. Marx came after the French Revolution, so the history of Marx in comparison to that makes no sense.
    2. The class struggle (which is associated with Marx and what I assume you meant) was the major contribution to the Revolution. Remember the Third Estate? Carson isn’t changing history at all. Last year when we discussed the French Revolution and what led to it, class struggle was important, along with the economy, etc. It exists in almost every society.

  13. I don’t think I’ve misunderstood anything. I am merely expressing a sentiment that many students across the US relate with respect to their experiences re: history. They say it’s boring. They say it’s useless. They say what they’re learning isn’t relevant. Of course, I disagree with each of these sentiments, because they are far from true. But, this is what many young people believe, and it develops somewhere in their schooling.

  14. i love that analogy and I think that next year, it will be apart of my introduction to my course. It’s amazing how POV changes everything. Every so often, a student in my 5th pd get angry, b/c she says I’m destroying everything she’s learned. She gets mad at me quite often and wants to argue the tradition (nationalist pov) she’s always been taught. My response has always been when you go to college the approach & perspective will change again. But now, I have this AWESOME quote to use . . . thanks, carson!

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