August 16, 2013

I will admit that I was never particularly interested in history.  As is often the case, this might have to do with history teacher I had.  High school offered one history teacher who was seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and while I appreciate now her insistence that we memorize things (such as the preamble to the Constitution), she didn’t inspire me to care much about the topic.

Since then, I have generally become interested in history because of something that pulls me in.  Reading a book by Amy Tan made me wonder what happened in China during World War II.  Seeing “Argo” made me wonder about the history of Iran.  (I was a young child when the events in “Argo” occurred, so you can’t blame me for being a little fuzzy about that time period.)  And I love a good story, so history that is told like a narrative tale is more compelling to me than a list of facts or dates.

My son is about to turn 12, heading into middle school in a few weeks.  Yesterday he heard news on the radio while I was waiting for a traffic update, and was horrified by reports of what was going on in Egypt.  This morning he read the article in the front section of the newspaper about it.  (Usually he just reads the comics.)  As we talked about it, I realized that while I understood recent events (because I read the newspaper), I’m fuzzy on how we got to this point in history.  My knowledge of Egypt is mostly about ancient Egypt — I know almost nothing of what happened between the last pharaoh and last month.

And while I am comfortable admitting that I don’t know everything — my students and my son have certainly heard me say, “I don’t know.  That would be an interesting thing to look up.” — I am embarrassed at my lack of historical understanding.  The things I learned about ancient civilizations in my middle school social studies classes, along with a large dose of World War II in Europe (from my father and from my one college history course), pretty much make up all the history I know.  And that’s not acceptable, not for an educated person in the U.S., not for a teacher who’s trying to inspire and excite her classes.

Off to the library to try to find a good book about modern Egypt.