Posted on February 19, 2011 by Suzan Woodard in Personal Experiences.
Why should a child be exposed to history lessons?
Well, if you are inclined to align your thinking with Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, you will appreciate this quote:
“The supreme purpose of history is a better world.”
American poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren was of the same opinion.
“History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
Maya Angelou also weighs in on the value of teaching history.
“Despite its wrenching pain, (history) cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
I think learning history is like figuring out how to navigate a traffic roundabout. Stay where you are…and you’ll soon be dizzy and bored with the scenery. If you venture beyond your immediate circle, you can explore all sorts of places and get a better appreciation of the lay of the land.
Unfortunately, there was a pretty big void in my education when it came to history. Changing curricula and uninspired teachers didn’t help, so what I learned I came by haphazardly – often from historical novels and roadside markers read on family vacations.
In recent years, watching the History Channel, writing my family history, and helping my children study for their world and U.S. history classes have filled in some gaps. Visits to New Orleans and colonial Jamestown and Williamsburg, Va., over the holiday break gave me a healthy dose of new facts about early America, too.
Although I am decades older than BigUniverse.com’s target audience (K-8), I love their history books, which feature primary source photos and documents, pull-out fact boxes, vocabulary lists and more. The books present history in an appealing way, so I have been reading them to increase my understanding.
One of the biographies by Teacher Created Materials Publishing that caught my eye was a 32-page reader (for Grades 4-8) about Phillis Wheatley, the namesake of a community center in my city. Embarrassingly, I did not know a thing about her, so I was eager to fill the void.
Born in Gambia or Senegal, Africa, in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and later sold into slavery around the age of 7 – about the age of my twin nieces, who I visited this Christmas. (How young Phillis was to have gone through such a wrenching life change!) The little slave child soon found herself in Boston, where she was purchased by a Boston merchant and tailor, John Wheatley, to act as an attendant for his wife, Susanna. Phillis was named after the ship on which she arrived, “The Phillis.”
Fortunately, Phillis was a bright thing and learned English quickly. The Wheatley family was progressive in their thinking and soon embraced her, educating her as one of their own children. She was taught to read and write and remarkably was reading Greek and Latin passages by the time she was 12.
Phillis Wheatley wrote her first poem at 13, which was published in a newspaper. With subsequent poetry, she gained notoriety in Boston. Mrs. Wheatley took Phillis to England, where she helped her get a book of 39 poems published, making Phillis the first African-American woman to become a published author. The book was titled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”
Phillis Wheatley was eventually emancipated formally and later married and had children. Although she was plagued by ill health and died young, her place in early American history is secure. “Early America: Phillis Wheatley” is a good read at any time of the year, but particularly poignant during Black History Month.
Other history quotes I like:
“A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” – George Santayana
“If the past has been an obstacle and a burden, knowledge of the past is the safest and the surest emancipation.” – Lord Acton
“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” – Aristotle
“This I regard as history’s highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.” – Tacitus
Note: Dr. Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 to make the public aware of contributions African-American people have made to the fabric of our nation. Today, Black History Month (also called African-American History Month) is observed annually in February on a national scale.
For additional resources for Black History Month, check out the books listed in my blog “Books Introduce Black History Month Heroes” and other books offered at Big Universe.