Today is Martin Luther King Junior Day. The wee ones both came home this past week talking about him. They knew who he was, and approximately what he did (although Little Miss thought he freed the slaves).
Honestly, I was surprised that they were being taught this in school already. When I was their age, I’d never heard of him. And when I did first hear about him, I knew just the bare minimum. Little Miss’s principal is encouraging every student to memorize his “I Have A Dream” speech and to understand the meaning behind it.
Back when I learned history, it was very simple and – pardon the expression – black and white. We fought the Revolutionary War because the British were bad and unfair. We (living in the North, it was always “we”) fought the Civil War to free the slaves. We discussed little of the details of why things happened, but more just the dates and things that did happen.
It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school and in Mr. Abalan’s AP American History class that I first got a taste of the complexity that is history. I started to learn about why the British created their empire in the first place and how they controlled it and why issues came up. I learned about the economic issues that were facing the south and how the railroad development was creating challenges and divisiveness in addition to the question of slavery in terms of precipitating the Civil War.
Figures in history were the same way. We never heard about any of their faults or their foibles. They were mythical figures standing apart in history, something to aspire to but yet so far beyond us that it was an impossible task to live up to them.
The complexities in their personalities have also been shared since I was a school girl. They had their own scandals. They were selfish. They did right things for wrong reasons, and wrong things for right reasons. They were people, just like me – even if their official biographers frequently tried to convince us otherwise.
I’d rather know about what they did wrong sometimes though. Perfection isn’t possible, and being human makes them more … real. And believable. And it makes what they did even more impressive, and something that I feel like I actually can strive for. And I’d like to think that the wee ones feel the same way – understanding that they can do special things in life even though they aren’t – and, like everyone else, could never be – completely perfect.
I love that they are talking about why things happen in the context of history. I’m glad that they are hearing about slavery and the complexity of race relations and how that tore apart our country. Granted, much of it has been toned down because they are only five and seven, but they are still learning things earlier than I did and with more truth than I did.
How were you taught history? And has your perspective changed as you learned more about the complexities involved in the people and events in history?
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This post was inspired by the book YOUNG MANDELA: The Revolutionary Years by David James Smith. It is the featured book in the From Left To Write book club where we write a post inspired by the book we read rather than an actual book review. There is no compensation involved, and all opinions expressed are my own. I did receive a copy of this book as a part of the book club