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What I'm Reading... And Why

I recently started reading The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass, who serves as the President of the Council on Foreign Relations. I use information from CFR's educational products for many of my classes, and to give myself the in-depth background I need when teaching current events. I was struck by something Haass says in the introduction to the book.

"Global literacy is essential, because we live in a time in which what goes on

outside a country matters a great deal. Borders are not impermeable. The United

States is bordered by two oceans, but oceans are not moats. For better and

for worse, the so-called Vegas rule - what happens there stays there - does

not apply in today's global world."

Today's students will be part of a world interconnected beyond our wildest dreams by the time they are middle-aged adults. Helping them understand, now, how we got to where we are is critical to them being able to operate in a globalized world. It is also the reason that we have to teach subjects like Geography and World History using a perspective that incorporates both the past and the present. Social studies education has to move beyond sheer memorization of facts in order to be relevant to today's students. They need to be able to see the significance of what I call the great ribbon of history, and to find themselves along that ribbon. Connecting past and present, illustrating the many ways that humans have strived for the same goals, and acknowledging the complexity of the world are all ways to help students understand why we study these things at all.

Also on my Kindle at the moment is the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. It is a rare book that disrupts my quiet moments, forcing me to see connections both unrealized or ignored before. Having made my way about 3/4 of the way through the text, I keep finding examples of her premise in so much that I read, or prepare to teach. I'm reading Caste because my 85 year old student recommended it to me. My discussion about the book with that student has been fascinating (I swear she teaches me more than I do her), but I also find myself more determined than ever to make sure that the history I guide my students through is as complete and honest as possible. I grew up in a time when a history teacher at my high school taught the "war of Northern aggression." Textbooks in my state still included passages endorsed by the Daughters of the Confederacy. We can't go back to that. If we are meant to persevere as a country, as a people, we have to look with clear eyes at the reality of our past.

Finally, I downloaded Erik Larson's Thunderstruck. I'm not quite sure where I read the review of it, but I love Larson's masterful weaving of history and story. His book, Devil In The White City, remains one of my favorites (even though the end makes me queasy!), and the one of the top reasons I am fascinated by the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

I hope you are enjoying some good summer reading, too!

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