Not quite wonder woman

Old Friends, Boring Textbooks, and Recent History

High school is too brief and fleeting to waste time on boring textbooks filled with uninspired dry accounts of dates to memorize and events told in such a way that all humanness is lost to lifeless facts. ~me

That being said, I am in no way promoting ‘revised history’, I want facts. What I don’t want is to kill a kid’s curiosity. What better way to slaughter a curiosity for the past than to present it with a textbook full of  unfamiliar names and places and dates with no context to how one event lays the groundwork for another and they weave together through time to make us what we are now?

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  ~George Santayana

My oldest friend in the world called me yesterday, I’ve known her since she was born. I’m nine months older, our mamas were friends, our grandmothers were friends. Anyhow, time distance and life do not throw us together very often but she had purchased a history course for her highschooler who will graduate soon. It is a modern history course and apparently about as interesting as watching dust collect on a table top. In fact I might could argue that a time lapse photo presentation of a clean undisturbed table over the course of three weeks could be more inspiring than being bored by history.

We are not makers of history. We are made by history. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’ve homeschooled a child to graduation you know the feeling of wanting to get it right. Time is running out, you are going to nudge your little chick into the world, your job as primary teacher will be done, and there is a lot of pressure to get it right. You don’t want your last precious months homeschooling to be tedious and dull. I felt her panic.

More and more, I tend to read history. I often find it more up to date than the daily newspapers. ~Joe Murray

So my friend knew that I was developing and writing history/literature curriculum as we go with my high school daughter.  If I wasn’t so much of a procrastinator I could’ve given her solid instructional digital files of the first 5 decades of this century. But because of my character flaw that is glaring at me this morning, I was only able to give her some ideas and encouragement to make it a little more memorable than the textbook she was describing.

If one could make alive again for other people some cobwebbed skein of old dead intrigues and breathe breath and character into dead names and stiff portraits. That is history to me! ~George Macaulay Trevelyan

Because history is so tied in with our present and our present tied into tomorrow’s history understanding how and why people acted and reacted is as much a life skill as being able to add and subtract. Figuring out who is embellishing a story to their favor, if there are other angles, and who has another side to tell are all part of developing logic and reasoning skills. In a world where opinion shades the nightly news and scientific finding change daily and contradict each other, logic and reasoning is important. We have to learn how to think for ourselves and history helps us put events in context. It also helps us to see and understand patterns of cause and effect and repetition.

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. ~George Orwell

And because this is important and she is important I’m going to briefly outline how we are covering the 20th century without a history textbook and hopefully in a way that the humanness is not lost among the rubble.

Bridge Literature and History

First and foremost- We have been reading novels set in each decade of the 20th century in chronological order. (I will be using the term ‘we’ because I am reading ahead of her preparing just one step ahead and only half a step somedays!) I believe that novels steeped in time and place can vividly bring to life a period in a way that will enhance historical facts and encourage fellow feeling for the people who lived through it.

Here is a list of books by the decade that we are using :

  1. 1900-1909- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns (set in Georgia 1906)
  2. 1910-1919-  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (set in Brooklyn early 1900s)
  3. 1920-1929- Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald (set in the roaring 20s)
  4. 1930-1939- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (set in Alabama during the Great Depression)
  5. 1940-1949- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (set in Germany WWII)
  6. 1950-1959- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (setting not stated in book late 50s early 60s Oklahoma)
  7. 1960-1969- Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress (set in Alabama 1965)
  8. 1970-1979- The Golden Day by Ursila Dubosarsky (set in Australia 1970s)
  9. 1980-beyond- Holes by Louis Sachar (set in Texas 1990s)

A quick Google search will give you many book options. My choices were based on our preferences but with the next feature (the timeline) you will see that the time period of a book is more important than the place.

Second (and secondmost)- We have a timeline. For every decade we study what else was happening at the same time as the people in the book lived.

What was happening in other countries while Will Tweedy dealt with his grandmother’s death and his sudden new step-grandmother in 1906 Georgia? The Russian Revolution of 1905 happened, setting the stage for the Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War, the execution of the imperial family, creating a new government with Vladimir Lenin as chairman.

What were some inventions in the 1910s while Francie’s mother was dipping her brush in kerosine and brushing her hair with it every morning before braiding two tight braids to keep Francie from getting lice at school? These included some luxuries and toys that the family in the story could never afford such as Lincoln Logs, pop up toasters, and Life Saver Candy.

And while Aunt Lucille travelled across the country to Hollywood carrying her husband’s head in a tupperware bowl, Peejoe was stuck in Alabama during the summer of 1965 “when everybody in Alabama went crazy”. Their story happens during the space race and Civil Rights.

History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided. ~Konrad Adenauer

Things that were happening at the same time as The Book Thief was happening.

I think you get the idea. Read a great book so you can imagine yourself with the people of that era and then discover what was going on in the real world at the same time. Our Timeline Board covers Other Places, Other People, Science, Inventions, Medicine, Music, and Other. I am finding that some of these have an overlap. We write the real history onto index cards and clip them to the timeline.


Other people includes our family, as great-grandparents, grandparents, and other relatives are born they are added to the timeline. I am keeping a running total of what age everyone was in what year so we can see things like if MawMaw wasn’t a teenager in the early part 50’s then she missed out on being in a group TIME magazine called ‘The Luckiest Generation’  but is most definitely a Baby Boomer. And since Papa spent his teenage years during the Great Depression his attitude about material things was very different than the toss away world today.

Putting family in the stream of time. You can see how old a family member is each year of the decade.

We also include movies and documentaries. One that stands out is People’s Century a documentary by PBS. We don’t watch every episode but I read the episode guide and choose a few. I find it’s easier to stick with the same series of documentaries since the theme and style just continues from previous episodes. We’ve been watching them on Youtube.

Some books have a movie based on them. I have mixed feelings about this although To Kill a Mockingbird is a masterpiece in it’s own right and we watched The Outsiders prior to reading because I’m doing a little experiment to see if watching the movie helps her get a visual while reading. (Also because I like reliving my adolescence crushes on Ralph Macchio, Leif Garrett, Rob Lowe, and Patrick Swayze. Who am I kidding, basically the whole cast.)  Some people just don’t have a movie like scene running through their mind as they read. This technique may help, it is yet to be seen.

We also do a Pinterest board of each decade. We do facts but also a lot of pop culture, music, fashion, hairstyles, and slang words. Again getting a good visual of what it looked like to live in 1924 or 1931 or 1949. Plus if you pin a good article and not just an image you can use it when reading and looking up information.

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. ~David Thelen

As a side note I count this as literature and history. If a student wrote a few term papers, book reports, did book reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, and other writing assignments it could be included as an English credit. I am such a big believer in across the curriculum style learning that if I really got wild I could throw quite a bit of science in there too. I’m not that wild at this point in life though. I only have 466 days until I am 50….

Stay tuned for more on the Timeline and I hope to make the study guides to the above books and more available in the near future. Maybe I’ll be in time to help my friend’s 2 youngest kids with a properly laid out plan. Another side note: She will be 50 in 466 days and 9 months. *winky face*








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