Teaching a new generation about its history
December 4, 2003
By William Ferchland
Tribune staff writer
Howard Coleman discussed Pearl Harbor with his eighth-grade class for 15 minutes Thursday.
It was all the time he could use as he pressed the topic between his daily lessons of colonial history at South Tahoe Middle School.
Teachers in middle and high schools are tied in two areas on how to effectively teach America’s anniversary dates, such as Sunday’s 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There is a need to stick to curriculum and how to relate it to a generation that relies on media for its history lessons.
“What I love even more than history is helping them make the connection to their world,” Coleman said during a break from teaching five classes in U.S. History. Coleman glanced at the washboard where he wrote Pearl Harbor’s date over Sept. 11, 2001 with an equal sign to war.
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“If history was only about dead people there would be no relevance for today,” he said.
The surprise bombing of the U.S. Navy base by Japanese fighter pilots left 2,395 dead and launched a previously hesitant United States into World War II.
When terrorists hijacked planes and slammed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, 3,173 died.
Coleman tied Sept. 11, 2001 into his discussion about Pearl Harbor. So will Suzy Allione, who teaches an Advanced Placement course in U.S. History to high school juniors.
Allione constantly tries to relate history issues with current events. A fight at school, for example, is a lead into foreign policy. Would a student intervene and break up the fight, stand back and watch, tell a teacher or push both fighters to the ground? The answers fall between isolationism and imperialism.
“I think it aids the significance (of Pearl Harbor) because now students have a more realistic background and that’s how education works,” she said. “If Sept. 11 hadn’t happened you would have to be creative, like what would you do if somebody intruded your house, damaged property and hurt your parents?”
Allione glanced over Pearl Harbor but the lesson will arrive sometime in March, per her curriculum. Coleman’s middle school curriculum doesn’t include Pearl Harbor because the topic is addressed in high school.
With high test scores becoming so crucial in reading and math, most students have a slim knowledge of history when they move on to middle school, Coleman said.
Kelsey McClurg, a freshman at South Tahoe High School, said she didn’t remember learning about Pearl Harbor in school. While the topic is addressed in upper-grade history courses, McClurg had a general understanding of the date.
“It was in World War II when the Japanese bombed the U.S.” she said.
McClurg was even hesitant to link the two surprise attacks together.
“Both were similar with us being attacked but it was different because Pearl Harbor was by a country and Sept. 11 was by terrorists,” she said.
At Whittell High School, Pearl Harbor will be discussed in the spring, said teacher Maxine Atherton. She might question her students on their knowledge on Monday, but only briefly.
Atherton also shied away from pairing the two dates.
“Not one person in Pearl Harbor got (monetary) compensation,” she said about family members of Sept. 11, 2001 victims receiving payments. “To some kids that really does affect them. They are wondering what we’ve become as a nation that we can assign an amount of money to a life.”
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org.