Teaching History in High School

At around 7th to 9th grade, children are ready to be challenged with thinking about problems of mankind, comparing world views, etc. They can begin reading more mature books and pursue in-depth study of historical periods. From this point on, textbooks may be helpful but should not be overused. For example, a study of the French Revolution could include reading A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel with the textbook used as a reference to fill in the gaps. Use Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture as an accompaniment to provoke deeper questions such as: “Why was the French Revolution so different from the American Revolution when they were founded on many of the same ideals and occurred within 25 years of each other?”

This is also a good age for children to begin making their own “Book of Centuries” which is a time line in book form that the child assembles himself, with each page representing 100 years. For each century, the child enters written information, illustrations, brief biographical sketches of major figures, etc. The result is a combination time line and historical scrapbook. This is a very effective way to study history. A Book of Centuries may be hand-made, but ready-made ones are available.

The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (which is really a history text) does an outstanding job of explaining and illustrating the ten different historical time periods: The Ancient World (from prehistory to the founding of Rome), The Classical World (Greece and Rome), The Early Middle Ages (from the fall of Rome to around 1100), The Middle Ages, The Renaissance and Reformation, Trade and Empire (1600s), Revolution and Independence (1700s and 1800s), Unification and Colonization (mid-1800s to World War I), The World at War (1914 – 1949), and Modern Times (1950 to the present). Whereas the elementary years were concerned with establishing mental images of each period and with learning some of the more important names and events, the high school years are concerned with “fleshing out” the mental images, learning even more important names and events, and, most of all, with beginning to understand some of the “why” of history. Older students are ready to grasp the ideas that led people to make discoveries, invent things, wage war, and keep peace.

At the high school level, most states require one credit of World History and Geography, one credit of American History and Geography, one credit of American Government, and two to three credits of “Social Studies,” which can be more World History, American History, Geography, or Government, or it can be other courses such as Anthropology, Philosophy, Sociology, Economics, Career Choices, or Biblical History. High School is when we can take a serious look at what each child’s future holds and whether that future includes study or a career that needs a lot of history. Some careers, such as lawyer, teacher, archaeologist, anthropologist, or economist, require more history than others. Also, some children are deeply interested in history.

Let the child’s desires and future needs determine the amount of history study. Another option for the high school years is to focus on passing the CLEP tests or Advanced Placement Tests in history so freshman and sophomore history classes in college can be exempted.

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