The Compelling "Why?" Continued

Posted on: Tue, 01/21/2020 - 09:00

Guest Blogger Tyler Hanson, American History teacher at Tuscarora High School

What does it mean to be an American? Why do we have the problems in the world that we do today? Why do people have different, often contradictory and even antagonistic ideas about how the nation and the world should work? How does society overcome division and disagreement? Whose voices are missing in the studies of the past and how do we elevate and investigate them? Is it possible for one individual to change the world?

American History is not just a study of the past so that we Americans are not doomed to repeat it; rather, American History is a deep and profound introspection encompassing each of the preceding questions and more. It encourages students to analyze, critique, and explore the story of our people - from the exceptional to the mundane, from the “good” to the “bad,” to everything in between. These tasks are essential for all within our borders to complete, as they hone crucial critical thinking skills, help develop a keen awareness for who we are, and encourage people to become actively involved and engaged with the world.

The United States was not built overnight. It took years of bold thinking, disagreements, and compromise, beginning with a governmental experiment that radically challenged contemporary norms. The country has expanded rapidly territorially and through immigration, welcoming people from across the globe. Frequently, these latter voices can get lost or hidden over time; therefore, the study of American History is crucial for bringing marginalized people’s stories to light.

Furthermore, much of the current news today can be traced back to moments in American History. Thus, fully understanding their implications requires an examination of the past. To every event, there is always some sort of context, cause and effect relationship, or historical continuity in play, all of which are observational skills learned in historical studies. Moreover, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and intertwined, it is essential for people to understand the country’s role in it. Some of the relationships our nation has today, allies and enemies, have been around for decades or even centuries. In order for people to sufficiently understand current foreign policy issues, they have to know their nation’s history.

In short, American History is an essential topic of study because it serves as a platform for students to understand who they are and how they fit into our nation’s tapestry of stories.

Guest Blogger Aaron Burch, United States History teacher at Linganore High School

photo of students in classAP United States History is vital because the historical periods and the concepts the students study heavily affect other periods of time and the people living in those times. There is incontrovertible evidence that concepts the students learn, such as American Cold War foreign policy involving the Middle East, affect relations in that region today economically and militarily as tensions build and relax and fuel prices fluctuate. The Colonial, Antebellum and Reconstruction eras brought about positive changes in technology and economic growth. However, these eras had continuities of racism, degradation and exploitation that help us understand the social, economic and political constructs of our present day, and are themes repeated throughout our history. Students can trace reforms made during the Progressive Era every time they look at their lunch contents, go to vote this November or work at their first job.

The skills students will acquire in courses like AP United States History complement the tools they need to succeed in their other courses. Student analytical skills become amplified and increase exponentially with the steady diet of primary source documents, debating and analyzing the causation and comparison of major events with their contemporaries or in different time periods. Yes, it is the expectation that students in this class take the culminating advanced placement test at the end of the school year, but the skills and information imparted upon them will lead to success in their future advanced placement classes as well as other courses.

Students will proceed into adulthood as citizens, understanding the reasoning for inequities in society, the prominence of their country in world affairs, and the impetus behind land-mark court cases and legislation that impact them.

photo of students in classroomLearning our nation’s great history will hopefully help increase empathy, awareness and accountability among our students. This course will also increase awareness of potential areas of study such as sanitation, social work, litigation, journalism, technological innovation and many other potential fields. Students will be moved to question and inquire instead of surmise, delve instead of deflect and continue to pursue knowledge of this country, its people and policies, and prepare for how they want to influence others.