What makes “heritage” teaching different from other teaching?

One of the things I thought about at Mary’s assembly to recognize veterans in Bigfork was how important it seemed that young people had gathered and were telling each other the stories they wrote about the lives of older people, who were physically present in the room. The heroes of these stories were war veterans, but they could have been businessmen, nurses, teachers, ranchers, artists, scientists, or anyone else who understood the role of generativity in making a life: creating an identity by authoring a life story around the work of creating and producing something that would benefit the larger community.

The emphasis upon thinking about how particular communities are formed and held together and upon local research is powerful because when adults tell students that the stories of people where they live are important, they are disagreeing profoundly with lots of stories young people will hear in the virtual worlds that are being built in the digital cosmos that has more and more influence in the formation of teenagers’ identities.

Many advertisements tell simple little stories that suggest life is a moment, and that therefore being gorgeous, with the “right” hair style, or article of clothing, or automobile will bring fulfillment.

But old people telling their stories inevitably teach that life lasts a long time, though youth and possessions do not. Teachers who find interview subjects who can tell, through their experiences, the ways that that character matters and the ways quick decisions set in motion consequences that ripple on for decades may be doing young people a profound service.

By approaching history through the stories of people who did not hold high office or greatly influence large events, teachers shift the attention of young people from the state to society. The society is more fundamental, in the sense that it comes first and it may remain after the nation disintegrates. At the national level, our politics is corrupted by dishonest discourse. Without honest discourse, we have no way to forge the shared sense of identity and purpose needed if the nation is to become, however imperfectly, a manifestation of our common will and not merely a smelly mechanism operated by crooks and robbers according to their hidden designs.

We can leave politics from time to time to meet in society--with family and friends and people we know in our towns and neighborhoods--and talk honestly about what we care about and what we have learned. When we do this, our heritage is alive. We come to understand our most important tasks. We understand that the laws passed in Helena are less important than the commitments we make to each other. 


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 06/23 at 06:14 AM
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