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How to Teach “Boring” History to Teenagers

Written by Gary North on December 17, 2016

I teach American history to high school seniors in the Ron Paul Curriculum.

Teenagers have grown up in the digital age. They respond well to visual images. They are not comfortable with learning 100% through reading.

This is nothing new. This is why documents from ancient Egypt show that priests taught young men by means of a mixture of lecturing and having them copy traditional texts. Kipling wrote a poem about this: The Gods of the Copybook Headings. It is not a great poem structurally, but it is my favorite poem. Its message is depressingly true.

Today, however, there are far more avenues of persuasion and learning than lecturing, reading, and discussing. There are videos.

I am not a fan of videos as a substitute for reading, lecturing, and discussing. They are too short-lived. They do not “stick.” But they can excite. They can grab people’s attention. And, if done right, they can drive home one point with graphic efficiency. If you are trying to make one point, look for an image. In our day, moving images work even better.

I do not use a textbook. Textbooks really are boring.

Let me provide an example. I devote a lesson in my American history course to the crash of 2008. I want to grab the students’ attention from the beginning. But how? I was in the shower, where I ruminate. It hit me. What is the most effective way that Hollywood grabs our attention? With previews of coming attractions. (No, they are not “trailers.” Trailers are wheeled, unpowered vehicles that are pulled by powered vehicles.)

So, I went back to my lesson on the crash. I added a preview of coming attractions. This was not possible before YouTube. It is eminently possible today. To avoid using embedded YouTube videos is a huge mistake.

Take a look at what is possible to liven up a high school subject that most students over the last century have found boring. After you finish, you will understand two facts:

1. This is not how you were taught American history.
2. Classroom education cannot match online education.

Click the link.


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