Teaching history to teenagers in the age group of 11 to 14 is a fairly uphill task, especially in today’s world amidst the overwhelming presence of social media and technology. Historical dates, kings, regimes, revolutions seem so distant and divorced from the lives of these students. They find it really hard to relate to the subject and thus lose interest.
The challenge is to make history more relevant by finding a connection with their modern lives. We often talk of the continuity of civilization in spite of all the changes the world has been through. So, I decided to search for clues that would exemplify this continuity and help the children better understand the world they live in. I also tried to cull ‘real-life’ learning from history which could be applicable in the modern context. To accomplish this it was imperative to move beyond textbooks and use multiple strategies to present the subject matter.
A few examples will illustrate my point.
Local history and walks
I live in Pondicherry, a town which was under French colonial rule for many years. The French had carefully planned the urban landscape, and the old town has two distinct quarters – French and Tamil. The old French quarter has villas/houses in the European classical style. Old Tamil quarters are in the vernacular style of Tamil Nadu. The modern town is like any other small Indian town with markets, shopping complexes, traffic, a haphazard array of streets, etc.
I take the children for a walk in the three areas and ask them to observe how they feel in these distinct precincts. Over the years I have noted a similarity in their observations vis-à-vis each area:
1. French quarters – a feeling of vastness and aesthetic pleasure
2. Tamil quarters – a feeling of homeliness associated with one’s tradition and roots
3. Modern town – a sense of confusion caused by the overwhelming noise and pollution
Away from their textbooks, the walk and ensuing discussion helps them understand the history of their town and the complex, changing pattern of its settlements. It is also an opportunity for them to reflect upon the systematic approach of the urban planners of previous centuries. Additionally, they make a direct connection between physical spaces and architecture and their impact on one’s psychological state. Hopefully, this also instils a civic sense early in life.
The author has been teaching history in both urban and rural schools for the past 13 years. She has a special interest in teaching Indian history. She can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the her tweets on education, history, culture and heritage on Twitter @Payal_swar.