Yesterday I read a Globe and Mail article about a Canadian Spanish War veteran finally being honoured for his role in the conflict. (Wow, I can't believe that only took 73 years!) I really enjoyed the article and reading about Mr. Paivio's experiences during his time in Spain. I always like reading stories about the very interesting lives other people live.
But today, my post isn't about that, although I think it's wonderful this 94 year old man is finally getting some recognition for his service. Reading this story reminded me of something from my childhood. It's about what students don't learn in school (although, remember this is just from my perspective.) I learned lots of really important and valuable information during my 13 years (including kindergarten) of pre-college education. But there was one subject that I was consistently disappointed in. In early elementary school I kept asking my mum when I was going to get to have History class, like I'd read about in many 'old time' books. It sounded so fascinating, and I couldn't wait to dive right in to learning about the past! But I had to start with Social Studies. I kept waiting for that magic time when Social Studies would turn into History. Maybe in grade five, I remember thinking. Hmmm, OK, maybe next year in grade six. But, sadly, that day never came. Not until I was in university. And while I was sitting in Social Studies classes, waiting for History to happen, I missed out on learning about some pretty interesting past events.
It wasn't in a textbook that I first learned about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). No, it was Chaim Potok's coming-of-age story, "Davita's Harp," about a Jewish-by-birth, later Jewish-by-religion girl. That book touched on many aspects that fascinated - and still fascinate - me. The intriguing life of Hasidic Jews. Certain pieces of artwork, significant historical events in America and around the world during the 20s and 30s, and interesting snatches of creative writing. And, of course, the Spanish Civil War. I had learned about many wars and conflicts in Social Studies, but not once had the Spanish Civil War come up. A mysterious textbook omission eerily similar to the seldom talked about Halifax Explosion. (Wouldn't you know, I learned about that disaster from another young adult book, "Irish Chain." Why, again, isn't history taught by reading historical books?)
I believe that History - or Social Studies, whatever is the preferred term these days - shouldn't be taught by textbooks. No, not at all. It should be taught by historical books, either fiction or nonfiction, that draw the reader in and take hold of them, never letting them forget the fascinating past of this world. If it weren't for reading so many young adult books as a child and teen (and adult), I would have never discovered so many interesting facts about history. Turns out I didn't need History class or Social Studies. I just needed books!
Note: To be perfectly fair, there was one Social Studies textbook that I adored. I had moved to Alberta just in time for grade three. That year our textbook was about a girl who watched the news and found out, completely by accident, that she was able to climb through her TV and into the actual news stories. She explored all of the provinces in Canada that way and I was hooked. Hooked on history. Hooked on learning about my country. Hooked on traveling. Hooked on reading. Hooked on inventing my own crazy stories. In recent years, I've tried to find a copy of that grade three textbook but, with no idea of the title or how to figure out what textbooks the Alberta government approved for grade three in 1993-1994, I've never succeeded. If any of you know how to figure that stuff out or ever saw or used this textbook, I would love to get my hands on it. Any help would be greatly appreciated!