Heave Ho To Ho Hum History

Raise your hand if you found reading history texts in school to be, well, ho hum.  Something about all those dates, the size of armies, the number of casualties, etc. just makes me want to nod off.  Why count sheep when you can count battleships?  The problem is that the presentation of history was basically just the facts–the dry facts.  That battle strategy to capture our minds needs to be given the heave ho.  Learning history can be quite fun if the presentation is more creative.

Staring at statistics on the page of a textbook or having statistics spouted off at you from the front of a classroom is about as fun as watching paint dry. Does the learning process have to be as dead as the war casualties in the military conflicts they are trying to teach about in a history course?  Why not combine learning and enjoyment?

Visual learners will take in far more from a seeing history come to life before their eyes.  Why I’ll bet I learned more about the evacuation of Dunkirk from seeing the movie “Dunkirk” last weekend than I ever learned from sitting in a classroom being lectured to about the event.  And I am more likely to actually remember what I learned because what I digested was tied to an enjoyable experience and not a boring situation to simply endure.

Obviously, it is not feasible to show an epic motion picture during every history class.  But pictures, models, and other visual tools would certainly liven up the process.  The goal is not to entertain but to enhance the learning process.  Aren’t you far more likely to remember the details of a pleasant experience?

Even if it is merely words that are used to convey the historical information, the presentation could be made more palatable by providing something beyond the usual (yawn) statistics and figures.  Let’s give this suggestion a try in the context of the evacuation of Dunkirk, an event with air, land and sea components.

Up in the air were RAF Spitfires.  The Spitfire was a single-seat fighter plane used by the Royal Air Force during World War II.  And the manufacturer was spitting out Spitfires; this plane was produced more than any other British aircraft during WWII.  Just how did the Spitfire get its name?  Blame it on a girl.  The boss of the plane’s designer named it after his daughter; she happened to have a fiery personality and was called the “little spitfire.”

Down on the ground were wide sandy beaches full of British and French troops who needed to be evacuated from Dunkirk, a city in northern France. Dunkirk is the English version of the place name.  Dunquerque, the French name, derives from West Flemish words that together mean “church in the dunes.”  Churchill referred to the Miracle of Dunkirk where about 338,000 troops were evacuated.  It was a miracle of deliverance–a fitting event for a place meaning a church in the dunes.

Out in the sea were lots of small boats.  Approximately 700 private ships utilized in the rescue effort were called the “Little Ships of Dunkirk.”  Ships used in war bring to mind destroyers, carriers and battleships–all BIG ships. But the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” included speedboats, car ferries, and even 26 yachts.

Aren’t these historical facts pretty interesting?  They are to me.  Not only are they interesting, but they give me a 3-D vision of what happened–one that I will indeed remember.  Let’s give the old heave ho to the ho hum one dimensional presentation of dull facts and give some life to history.  The participants in long ago events may be dead, but us learning about these events does not require us to be bored to death.





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