The various hierarchal levels in a corporate business and business mergers, countless statistical formulas for probability, and, of course, accounting, are just a few of the topics covered while working on my bachelor’s degree in business management. Important material you might suggest. Good information to know, you might possibly say. I say, “I want a refund.” What my college’s curriculum overlooked was that few of the aforementioned topics held as much weight as the most significant skill expected in all profit-based industries—the ability to sell. More specifically, without the ability to be successful as a salesperson in any sector of business, relatively few other topics will prove to be beneficial. Now before I go any further, it is important to say that I am a huge proponent of higher education, especially since I teach college-level U.S. history and truly believe in its undeniable benefits. However, I do question some of the material taught in secondary and postsecondary institutions, particularly in terms of their ability to prepare students for the real world. So I question why so many institutions teach what few people care about in the real world?
Now as an academic, I am heavily devoted to theory within my specific field, as are most professors. Despite this fact, my teachings are not limited to theory, but focus on practical applications. The argument here is that theory should not be the beginning and end of our pedagogical work. So staying true to what I am “preaching,” what follows is a practical example of this argument. I rarely teach specific dates in my U.S. history class. Students knowing the correct century, as well as whether something happened early, mid, or late in the century, is the most that is required of them to do well in my class in reference to dates. Of course, there are exceptions, such as knowing when America declared her independence and when the American Civil War began. However, do students really need to know the dates of presidents’ birthdays? More to the point, do we really need to care? The Louisiana Purchase was completed on April 30, 1803, but how many students, who do not continue on in the discipline of history, are going to remember that date after they leave college? Now the probability that they might remember the Purchase happened in the early part of the 19th century is much greater. It is reasonable to suggest that requiring the less specific date is much more practical, as these dates are typically not what are asked in interviews, regardless of whether the position is history related.
Continuing with the prior example, you might be asking yourself, if not specific dates, then what do I teach? Isn’t history all about dates? The answer is whatever makes the content significant to my students. In other words, whatever makes them motivated to be engaged—within reason, of course. For instance, slavery is a major historical factor in United States and world history, one that cannot be overlooked by any historian. Yet, students may become bored with seeing this topic continuously revisited when discussing various time periods covered throughout the semester. So one day my goal was to find a new element to bring into the topic, while still covering the necessary material. The aspects of slave songs and religion came to mind. I began to research and use many knowledgeable scholars’ works on African Americans’ connection to the Baptist religion, in the 19th century and as seen in present day America. Students may not care about what type of faith 19th century slaves practiced. Simply put, there are individuals who do not find history interesting or important. Yet, when shown the connection to their lives, such as how this affected what would be the primary religion practiced by African Americans today, and suddenly the relevance and interest rises.
This debate is obviously not limited to the study of history; it lends itself to any educational effort or goals. To enhance our success within the practice of pedagogy, we should be more discriminating in deciding what information is vital, as opposed to, for lack of a better phrase, a waste of time.
Dale Schlundt, Adjunct Professor, History
For further information, contact the author at Palo Alto College, 1400 West Villaret, San Antonio, TX 78224. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.