Incorporating Oral History Into Your Curriculum
As we move into the high school years in our homeschool, my son has begun to study modern history. Many curriculum companies save the twentieth century for later years due to the often harsh and more disturbing events that have occurred. While this is true, one advantage to studying this time period in high school is the ability for teens to learn first-hand accounts of history.
We have incorporated oral history into our curriculum by seeking out field trip opportunities in our area. Oral history give students the opportunity to hear personal stories from living people and go beyond the who, what, why, when, and where.
Lessons from Real Life
When we read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and studied World War II, we were able to visit a local synagogue. The rabbi showed us artifacts that had been hidden and saved from the Nazis, and we were able to examine them up close. We also had the honor of meeting a courageous woman who is a Holocaust survivor.
She witnessed Kristallnacht, and she and her family were separated and forced to go into hiding. She told us about how her father was hidden by neighbors as she and her mother slept in roadside ditches on their flight from the country. She escaped many close calls, including several encounters with Nazi soldiers, and just barely avoided arrest. Her story is miraculous, and it is real.
First Hand Accounts
When we studied the Vietnam War, we visited a local museum and met a Vietnam veteran (hero), who showed us war artifacts and talked to us about his experiences both on the battle field and back at home. Meeting this witness to history was something that could not be replicated in a textbook. He described his feelings, the sights, and the sounds of his experiences.
He spoke of frustrations, misunderstandings, sacrifice, guilt, fear, and pain, as well as funny things, tender moments, and acts of bravery. His first-hand story made a lasting impression.
Planning these oral history field trips has been as easy as a phone call, and many people are happy to share their stories if you ask.
Some ideas for topics include:
- Segregation/the civil rights movement
- World War II
- The Great Depression
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
- Gulf Wars
- Cold War
- Cuban Missile Crisis
- 1960s protest movement
- Life under communism
- Assassination of John F. Kennedy
- Iran hostage crisis
- Fall of Berlin Wall
- Space Shuttle disaster
- 911/World Trade Center
Oral history is a vital way to preserve and record information without the filter of a textbook. Hearing about a young teen’s feelings as she walks out of school and sees Nazi flags suddenly placed everywhere in her town is unforgettable.
Listening to a soldier’s tale of how his stomach was in knots as he lay in a muddy hole with bullets flying overhead has a lasting impact.
These encounters are also wonderful starting points for further research. High school is the perfect time to train students to become historians and look for the “rest of the story.” Including oral history, interviews, and other first-hand accounts in the curriculum along with the books gives students a view of the bigger picture and makes history come alive for them.