“Based on a True Story”

Movies can be so captivating. They take us on a journey through events, lives, struggles, and victories. For me, I am particularly drawn in when the movie ends and right before the credits, I see the words based on a true story. When the movie is based on real events, I relate more to the characters and to their struggles. I feel their victories more acutely. Our own lives are a series of ups and downs, wins and losses. True stories give us an opportunity to connect with other humans going through similar life experiences.

As a 4th grade teacher, I want to bring my students into real life stories of the people who have gone before us. Teaching my students history gives me the opportunity show them the conflicts and triumphs of the past. As we progress through time, each history lesson gives my students another page in the book of the past. It tells us about how we got to this point in modernity and how we fit in the narrative.

Given within an engaging story, history lessons can impact the lives of students in a natural and personal way. I have found that stories of real-life people provide a road map for how to live well. Considering the decisions and actions of historical people forms us in our characters and, as a result, students genuinely grow, one small lesson at a time, into their best selves.

If we are able to listen, we can hear each lesson beckoning us to consider if we would have acted the same given the circumstances. Could we have mustered that much courage to act heroically? Would we have been tempted by the same vice? History allows us to learn from the past and stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.

In America, the giants of our past have stood so tall that their legacy lives on today. In order to secure that legacy of freedom, self-government, and dedication to defending the rights of man, the stories of the founding and forming of America need to be taught to our young people. A forgotten story is no story at all.

As teachers, we are tasked with steeping ourselves in American history so we can pass on our heritage. Hillsdale College offers a number of resources to teachers to safeguard and enhance the telling of the American story. One of these new resources is The 1776 Hillsdale Curriculum which can revolutionize the way teachers narrate American history across the continent.

This curriculum supports teachers in three main ways:

  1. The units are chock-full of questions to consider both when planning each lesson and when discussing the content with students. These questions encourage high level thinking both for the teacher and students.
  2. So many resources! The chapters include ideas regarding primary source documents, online courses, optional texts, grade level expository and narrative books, and numerous images which will help form both teacher and student understanding of the American story.
  3. Suggestions are given for vocabulary, memorization passages, essential dates, creative assignments, formative quizzes, and a summative assessment.

Rather than reducing history to names, dates, events, and facts, teaching it in the form of a narrative will naturally lead students to consider their place in the story. Ultimately, we want to ask ourselves, and have our students ask themselves, about their own legacy. Who do we want to be? How do we become that person? The true story of our country begs us to prepare ourselves to heroically and virtuously write the next page in the American story.