In this pivotal year, with the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, forest fires taking our neighbors’ homes, the deaths of iconic public figures, the rise of the Me Too movement in our Los Gatos community, and a sweeping pandemic, it has never been more abundantly clear that our high school classes — especially our advanced level English and history studies — must be relevant to the historical context in which we are living in.
When our teachers give us assignments that pertain to the America of two hundred years ago and carry few real-world applications, it makes many students, including myself, feel the content lacks relevance. After all, when we reemerge into a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a multitude of social justice movements, what is the point in studying material that is no longer applicable to the new world in which we live.
Comparing this year of academic instruction to any previous year is not only impossible, but incredibly unfair to all the students currently enrolled in such courses. While your in-person history class last year may have been riveting as you watched your teachers walk through your desks, use visual aids, point to maps in front of you, and maybe even smile in your direction, our classes simply are not as interesting. The class may be the same, but the delivery of information differs. Due to the fact that the most effective education often occurs when educators can make strong connections with pupils, this year is more difficult for students and teachers tenfold. To make up for the fact that content is not as engaging this year due to remote learning, perhaps the key to making students more perceptive to lessons is making material relate and apply to the world we see changing around us. In the name of “not repeating history,” let’s be active members in change instead of standing idly by and ignoring it, hoping it goes away.
That’s not to say that we should ignore our history or stop reading classics, but we should include sort of relevant content to make our classes engaging to students in 2020. When our teachers create coursework that previously applied to students in years past, it makes participating in class feel like blocking out the world around us, and in turn, perpetuating a culture of ignorance. If we are putting so much weight into understanding the past of our country’s history, yet simultaneously ignoring that history that is occurring in front of our own eyes, we are only adding to that feeling of futility and denial.
To put it into an analogy: if your house was burning to the ground and someone told you a homestead nearly two centuries ago also burned down, they would have accomplished nothing as it does not address the fact that your house is still burning. By emphasizing the burning of the homestead, it undermines the fact that your house is also burning. If we want students to feel accepted, seen, and understood in this year of remote-learning, the way instructors teach also needs to stop ignoring the world around us and instead incorporate it into the classroom.