“To everything there is a season, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot. a time to kill and a time to heal.”– Ecclesiastes 3
For nine years, my class didn’t change all that much. Sure new things have been added here and there. New ideas have been toyed and played with. But as I prepared to enter my tenth year of teaching and celebrate my decade of destruction, I came to the conclusion that there was only one thing left for me to do regarding the way I teach and how I run my class. I elected to burn it all to the ground. Like they said in the movie “The Dark Knight” – some people just want to watch the world burn.
I chose, as I began my second decade teaching, to let the past die. Everything that has a beginning has an end. To quote Revelation 21: “I am making all things new.” The end result over the last two years has been a complete re-imagining of how I teach. The end result has been phenomenal. Over the course of the last two years, since I have redone my class I have been blessed to teach thousands of kids in places I could only imagine. I have been blessed to lecture and teach at the National Theater, the Pentagon, the White House Historical Society, Anderson House, and the Russell Senate Office Building.
Having now taught for eleven years, it is time to once again re-imagine how we teach history. So, here we go.
Fourteen billion years ago, forged in the crucible of the Big Bang, a story began. But to understand this story we have to change the way it is told. It’s all there, in a language you don’t understand. But, one day, you will. There is a connection between all of us and the stars. Choices made thousands of years ago because of circumstances that happened millions and billions of years ago, all led to you. The decision of a group of rebels in China in the 1300’s made it possible for a broken army of soldiers to win at Trenton in 1776 and Saratoga in 1777. Greek technology made it possible for a man to walk on the Moon. An Egyptian queen inspired the greatest monuments of the United States. The rise of stars and galaxies connect to the Declaration of Independence. What if history is not a sequence of random events, but a continuous story, with consequences and divergent paths where the fate of universe hangs on the edge of a knife – where two inches to the left gives us the world we know today, but two inches to the right and the dinosaurs never go extinct.
What if to understand history you had to connect science, astronomy, mathematics, art, literature, engineering, religion, music, technology, weapons, and warcraft into a continuous story that began with the foundations of the universe? What if we encouraged the next generation in the story of us all to explore history and make it for themselves? What if we encouraged students and challenged them to do their homework WITH their parents by making their assignments interactive? What if instead of studying history, you lived it? Sure, you could learn about Ancient Egypt by reading a textbook. But what if you lived it by learning to play Senet, crafting Egyptian bread, and applying for a job in the Pharaoh’s government? Sure, you can learn about Ancient Greece by memorizing the names of people, places, and dates. Or you can build a Spartan Hoplon and fight in a phalanx and learn to write your name in Ancient Greek.
What if, in the face of a global pandemic that forces the reinvention of school itself, we found a way to do this virtually, by pushing the frontiers of distance learning and by incorporating virtual and augmented reality?
What if you learned how all of that, and more, connected to the birth of the United States and how we became the country we are today? What story would you tell? Welcome to American Civics and welcome to the story of all of us.
Actually, welcome to the story of you.