The best way for people to learn history and appreciate its importance is to start learning it at an early age in school. It’s common to hear people complaining about their history classes. They say that history is not important to learn “because it’s already happened”, a mindset that is negatively affecting my community. The improper teaching of history has brought about this mindset. Many history classrooms only teach facts and “the teaching of only facts reduces [the student’s] intellectual abilities and denies students the expressive potential inherent in their humanity” (Ohio Department of Education). While there have been schools and teachers that are working to change this mindset, the idea that history isn’t important to learn in schools has already been engrained in the mind of the student and reinforced by the population of the internet through memes. Students have already stopped caring, so one of the greatest challenges is to convince them to start caring again.
One of the best ways to convince students to care about history again, and begin to enforce the importance of history, is to encourage the tradition of oral history. StoryCorps is an organization that is dedicated to recording the stories of people and they emphasize its importance by reminding people what is so important about history. On their about page, StoryCorps says they collect oral histories “to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters” (StoryCorps). It sums up why it is important for people to listen to each other’s stories. Without these stories people may begin to lose their empathy towards others and lose their place in the world. Oral histories work to enhance learning, nurture empathy and help students to become conscientious students of the world.
There are multiple ways that oral history enhances learning, one of which is connecting a name and face to history to make people more interested in it. One would argue that the “stories of past lives, communities, and events might seem intrinsically interesting” but when people only focus on groups while teaching social history it flattens the narrative and “students find the subject dry, boring, and surprisingly unconnected to their lives” (Crocco). When students are taught through oral histories though, the individual stories do not lose anything on their way to the student and retain their intrinsically interesting appeal. This encourages students to learn history by peaking their interest and enforcing the connection of history to the student.
History also enhances learning by forcing the student to think critically. This is especially true when the students collect the oral histories for themselves. In discovering multiple oral histories, students develop the skills to “frame questions about why accounts differ, fosters their abilities as critical thinkers” (Miller). Every person has a different story, and every person has an account of what they experienced during various events throughout history. When provided with these multiple stories, students are forced to think about the past complexly. It stops becoming a feeding of facts and becomes an interactive activity that stimulates the brain and a person’s passion for history.
Oral histories work to enhance learning, but also can be used to create empathy in a student. When listening to oral histories, students are encouraged “to see the world through the eyes of another,” therefore creating an emotional link between the student and interviewee (Crocco). This emotional link was displayed in a study lead by Lee Penyak and Pamela Duray in Mexico City. The students in this study were asked to interview people in their community. By the end of the interviews, all the students reported having empathy for the people they interviewed and became increasingly active in the issue that they discovered the issue of with these interviews (Penyak). With this emotional link, the student will view past events with a fresh perspective that allows them to better understand the events and create a personal connection to them. This empathy can carry over into the emotions a student feels when learning the histories of other people. A student must learn empathy, but once learned personally through oral history, the empathy may grow and flourish rapidly.
Crocco, Margaret Smith. “Putting The Actors Back On Stage: Oral History In The..” Social Studies 89.1 (1998): 19. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Miller, Joan. “Migrant Memories: Creating An Oral History.” OAH Magazine Of History 23.4 (2009): 43. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Penyak, Lee M., and Pamela B. Duray. “Oral History And Problematic Questions Promote Issues-Centered Education.” Social Studies 90.2 (1999): 68. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
“StoryCorps.” StoryCorps. StoryCorps. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
“The Evidence Base for Social Studies: Social Studies in Elementary Education.” The Evidence Base for Social Studies: Social Studies in Elementary Education. Ohio Department of Education. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.