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Using the lessons of History to teach high school students better ways of approaching their social lives.

Being a student teacher at the high school level, one of my goals is to continuously improve student engagement. Remembering back to my days in high school, and also noticing that students today still seem to prefer their social lives over learning the lessons of the past, I began thinking about the different ways that the social lives of students could be merged and improved through social lives of unknown, "everyday people", historical figures.

Basic Possible Steps:

Introduce primary document posing everyday problem (Diary, letter, etc)
-Give students basic historical info to begin

Have students write or discuss how they would approach the issue

Discuss as a whole class and introduce more complex historical details


I am still ruminating on the different paths this could take, but imagined a course that was grounded in primary sources of everyday people, with everyday problems. Students would learn about the historical framework that these everyday people lived in and would begin to answer how they would handle their issues. The class would then discuss as a whole in order to reflect on all of the possible influences due to the time and place.

I believe that this approach to history would make history more realistic to students so that they can begin to see the similarities of past people. Also so students may see how the success and failure of past people can teach them better ways to improve their immediate lives, social or otherwise.

This is a very new thought of mine and I would love any discussion over the benefits, drawbacks, possible improvements, and any other relevant talking points.

Topics: education history
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    Nov 22 2012: could you give us an example? what kind of problems do you have in mind?
    • Nov 22 2012: There would still be much thought needed to arrive at an ideal use of this idea, but the specific example that continues to pop up into my mind is that of the Stoics. Each student would select their own problem or challenge, this could be outside of their social life just as long as it is important and relevant to them, and then see if the teachings and behavior of the stoics provides a model for a different and possibly better way of handling that challenge. I would imagine that if some piece of history shows students how to find or improve better relationships, students would see more than a large pool of knowledge to drown in, but instead WHY we learn history and the potential life lessons it imparts onto us.

      This would not be me telling them that the life of a Stoic is what they should aim for, but rather it would be them telling me how they think a Stoic would handle the problem, what the consequence would be, and whether or not they believe that the life of a Stoic holds any value to them personally. Take a look at Alexander the Great. I might ask students how he reached that level of success (by being cultured, well-educated, a keen diplomat [which is improved through practicing healthy social skills], etc...) and if they can apply any of it to themselves.

      By telling students that different people, groups of people, or different philosophies could potentially hold a key to the immediate improvement of their lives, I believe students will dig deeper into the material in search of it.
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        Nov 22 2012: i like that approach. although it is limited to the philosophy of a specific time period. not so much for example to introduce the concept of slavery in rome, or the average life of a peasant in 1200, etc. let alone the history of celts, who we don't know too much about, afaik.

        a long time lament of mine is that we don't really learn about the average man, or the every day's life of classes in different historical periods. what did the king do when wasn't in war? what did the peasants eat? what problems musicians faced? and so on. i wonder if you can incorporate that somehow in your method.

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