Our Very Own History Channel

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

I have written earlier about our out-of-the-book and into-the-world approach to the study of history, a process that is driven by questions that multiply each time one of them is answered.

What happens when a child who has grown up questioning the world and the past in this way encounters a history textbook?  I had heard about the improvements that the National Council of Educational Research and Training had made in the approach to history and was impressed by the names of the members of the Advisory Committee for Textbooks in Social Sciences.

We decided to find out. One fine day I unceremoniously pulled the NCERT textbook Our Pasts from the shelf and suggested to my daughter that she read the first chapter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Everyday History – Home Education Magazine

Guided by Home Education Magazine editor Barb Lundgren, I expanded my post on “Studying History” into an article. It appeared in Home Education Magazine as “Everyday History” in the March-April 2013 issue. Please subscribe to the magazine or ask your library to order it.  Here it is along with the photos that appeared in the magazine.


“Everyday History,” Home Education Magazine, March-April 2013, pp 22-25.

“Studying history is …. pretty much useless, isn’t it?” my daughter asked, as if it was fairly obvious. “I mean why read about Columbus discovering America, when it isn’t even true?” Read the rest of this entry »

Trails to the Past

Trails to the Past

The ordinary apparatus of historiography … is most at ease when made to operate on those larger phenomena that visibly stick out of the debris of the past…. A critical historiography can make up for this lacuna by bending closer to the ground in order to pick up the traces …” Ranajit Guha 1

Looking at the Ground

One day as my daughter and I sat down in Ponduru, we found in our hands a piece of the ground. It was coming off like puzzle pieces, revealing a layer of moist earth underneath. Someone had laboured to spread this layer on the ground outside their home. Though we knew this, it was so easy pick off, and so hard to resist doing so. What lay beneath? Why had the two layers dried differently? What were they made of and why?

A few neighbours gathered, perhaps amused by our curiosity. They had laid this ground, or ground just like it, adjacent to it. On ground like this they had learned to walk. They thought no more about it than second-generation city-dwellers like ourselves think about the tiles in our house.

Layers of Mud1

Layers of Ground. Ponduru, 2013. Photo: Krishna Yashwanth

But here we were, observing the different properties of the layers of ground. The upper layer was made of cow dung, and we could still see some grass in it. “The cow did not chew properly,” my daughter remarked. Why had they spread the cow dung in front of their home? Fertilizer? Good luck? “Antiseptic,” we heard someone say. How would we know? Could we test these three properties?

Fertilizer, being the most widely known use of cow dung, was also the easiest for us to test, having had some experience with it in our own garden. Last year we collected dung from a local cowherd to make gobbemalu for Sankranti. Afterwards we used these in our garden and saw a marked difference in the growth and flowering of the plants, especially the bougainvillea. We could easily repeat this and even do a controlled experiment using dung in one part of the garden but not the other. How to design a test for good luck? Or antiseptic? How would these tests, and our interpretations of the results, differ?

Feeling the pieces of ground, we saw how the top layer had dried, cracked and curled up at the edges, almost inviting us to pick it up and examine it like a puzzle piece – or like countries and continents. We could make pieces drift apart or come together, as if the moist earth below was the ocean.

Lifting one layer of dirt had sent us far back in time.

What Happened Here?

Sometimes we play a little game. Let’s call it “The History Game.” At home or outside, we look around and ask, what does what we see tell us about what happened here in the last few hours? Or the past few days? What is our evidence for saying so? How reliable is this evidence? Could someone conclude something different from the same evidence? What might possibly make us doubt this evidence? What alternate explanations are there?

We once asked these questions about a round pile of leaves, a few inches high. It was just a few feet outside of our gate. My daughter said, “this pile of leaves has been here for weeks. I have seen it here many times before.” Pointing out the different kinds of leaves, she added, “the leaves have come from near and far trees, because see this kind of leaf did not come from any of these trees.” So we talked about how they might have arrived – by the wind? or did someone sweep them? How long would such a neatly swept pile stay that way? How often do leaves fall? Now did we still think that the same pile of leaves had been there for weeks?

My daughter asked, “Why would anyone want to know the history of a pile of leaves?”

The Lie of the Land

“As it happens,” I warmed to my story, “several years ago, an important question was answered by asking just such questions about a pile of junk in a particular village in the Narmada Valley.” People living in the valley were told by the government that their village was not in the submergence zone of the planned Sardar Sarovar Project, and therefore they were not eligible for rehabilitation. People did not believe this, but who would believe them? It was their word against government records. The indigenous people were unlettered, and spoke Pavri on one side of the river, and Bhilali on the other. Together, they had weathered rains, floods and had observed the changes in the valley as each inch of the dam came up. They had lived there for generations, worked the land with their own hands and honoured the river as their mother. They knew Narmada would rise more than the level forecasted by the Central Water Commission. To challenge the government engineers however, they would need to prove it.

It turned out the location of a particular collection of debris yielded evidence of the level to which the Narmada river had risen during the floods of 1970. It matched levels indicated by people living on the other side of the river. With that piece of data, the people living in the Narmada Valley challenged the government survey records of their villages, that had erroneously resulted in a lower flood level calculation. Accurate land records were crucial in the people’s struggle over land rights and rehabilitation2. To plan for the future it was vital to know the past.

* * * * *

A Critical Discipline

 …. history is a critical discipline, a process of enquiry, a way of knowing about the past, rather than just a collection of facts.

These bold words on the study of history come from the Central Board of Secondary Educationii. But how many students experience history this way, whether in school or out? Are teachers and students encouraged to criticize and enquire? What if the critical enquiry led us to question the very statements presented as “facts” in our history books? Why these facts and not others? Are these facts even facts? What if they are lies?

What if a historian did for Indian History what James Loewen did for American History?  He not only identified lies told and retold in history books but also in museums and monuments across the United States. His two books, Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America have helped teachers and students seeking to bring out other stories, to challenge the heroic national narrative, and recognize the aspirations of people working against the grain of that narrative, or even crushed in the process. Next door, journalist Raza Rumi has written critically about the textbooks of Pakistan.

Indian history textbooks have undergone an overhaul since I last taught from one twenty years ago, when I found myself explaining and apologizing to students for inaccurate, inconsistent, and injurious statements in every chapter. Today’s NCERT History textbook offers a refreshing approach to the study of history. The book itself acknowledges the limitations in our knowledge and invites the reader to question sources of information and to interpret from diverse perspectives.

And yet.

Are students today asking questions in the class? Or are they waiting for the “Question Answer” sheet to be dictated so that they can prepare for the exam? Can you guess whether the following statements come form a primary or secondary, private or government, elite or international school?

The only questions I heard asked during my classes were about whether the material being covered that day would be on the examiii.”

[Students tend to] focus on recalling the content of the varied materials they read rather than analyzing them as historical evidenceiv.”

The first comes from Thane Richard, a student of St Stephens College, University of Delhi and the second from Victoria Brown, professor of history at Grinnell College in Iowa.

To encourage students to overcome this tendency, Victoria Brown has written a history textbook Going to the Source, that would help students practice history, to think like historians rather than simply read the works of other historians. The Central Board of Secondary Education expresses a similar vision. Here is the introduction to the history syllabus:

The syllabus would help them understand the process through which historians write history, by choosing and assembling different types of evidence, and by reading their sources critically.  They will appreciate how historians follow the trails that lead to the past, and how historical knowledge developsv.

Follow the Trails

Must this approach to history wait until the secondary school or college level?

Reading sources critically involves just the sorts of skills that children exhibit from the time they become verbal. Why? How do you know? Who said? But … What if? Answering these questions requires us to go backwards in time – to explain what came before, and how that is related to this. Children are actually begging for history and answering such questions is our first opportunity to follow the trails that lead to the past.

A persistent “why?” or a sharp “how do you know?” from an upstart toddler makes many an adult cringe. Yet it is this enquiring spirit that blazes the trails to the past by making us remember explanations for customs and procedures we have long taken for granted. Will they withstand the questioning? Or will they have to change? What is history for if not for social change – beginning at home. When we see that potential at home, we gain courage to practice this in the world, to question authority and believe and to have the courage to search for the answers, even as each answer leads to a further question.

It is easy to blame history books and history classes for the dullness of history. But would class be dull if students could talk back? If students could say what came to their minds, without fear of looking dumb or distracting from the lesson? Many teachers recognize the value of the student’s skepticism and offbeat questions but shush them out of pressure to complete the syllabus, even if that very syllabus calls for the encouragement of critical questions.

In fact, it is the refusal to entertain irreverent questions, especially from young people that dullens the sharp inquiring spirit which children express almost as soon as they learn to talk. The National Curriculum Framework textbooks call for that inquiring spirit – in history as well as in science. NCERT Director Krishna Kumar says, “The books are based on the recognition that the children construct knowledge with the help of experience and activities. In every area, from science and maths to social science and language children must be given a space to reflect, ask questions, wonder, and probe sources of knowledge outside the textbookvi 

I have witnessed the potential of freedom from the expectation of giving the right answer. We don’t even realize how much this expectation colours our response to the content of textbooks until we see someone who has not yet absorbed this expectation. A child who is not yet used to the idea that what she is supposed to do in response to a question appearing in a textbook is to “get the right answer” or even answer the given question, may offer a whimsical answer, ask an entirely different question, or find fault with the given question, going off on detours from which s/he may or may not return, sooner or later, to the route mapped in the syllabus. What happens when a child does this? Do we encourage them, listen to them, follow their train of thought? Or do we steer back to the syllabus, and to the (right) answer and on to the next question?

If we do the latter, we will be getting colder and colder on the trails to the past.


1 Guha, Ranajit. ‘Chandra’s Death’. Subaltern Studies V: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Ed. Ranajit Guha. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1987, page 138.  Available online (go to chapter 2).

2 Ravi Kuchimanchi, who helped the villagers expose errors in the government survey records, explains this in “The Height of Inaccuracy,” published in The Hindu, June 17, 2001.

http://www.hindu.com/2001/06/17/stories/13170612.htm

ii Annexure K of the History Syllabus issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development

http://cbseacademic.in/web_material/Circulars/2012/47_ClassXII/K_History_XII..pdf

iv Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon, Going to the Source:  The Bedford Reader in American History.  Boston:  St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

vCBSE History Syllabus.

vi“Teaching profession is in a deep crisis.” Interview with Krishna Kumar by Vasantha Surya, Frontline March 1-14 2008  http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2505/stories/20080314250509200.htm

Slow Learning

We often ask, what is learning? Now let us ask, what is slow learning?

1. Slow

In Space and Time in Classical Mechanics, Einstein asks to imagine that he has dropped a stone while in a moving train.  As it happens he asks us to imagine that he has dropped it outside the train, from the window, as the train movedi.

Inside a moving train, if we drop a stone we will see it fall down in a straight, vertical line.  If we are inside the moving train but drop the stone outside the train, we will see the same thing.  To the falling stone, once released from Einstein’s (or anyone’s) hand, it makes no difference whether it is inside or outside the train.

An observer outside the train, on the platform, (or on the embankment, as in Einstein’s tale), will see the stone come down in a parabolic path.  As if it were not merely dropped but thrown.  To those inside the train, moving forward at the same rate as the stone itself moves forward, the forward motion of the stone is invisible.  We might say it is non-existent or cancelled out, like the motion of the earth – which we do not count we are sitting still.  Or when we drop a stone while sitting still.

Now the question Einstein asks us is:  What did the stone do? Did it fall in a straight line or along a curve?

As Einstein goes on to explain in the rest of the book, Relativity: The Special and General Theory, questions of speed, distance and time become relative to the frame of reference.


Learning also takes many paths, perhaps all paths, as the quantum physicists say of particles. Is one path longer than another? Faster?

What parent or teacher is not familiar with this experience – in a conversation with a child, a flurry of ifs and buts arise, so that a simple point that that you thought you would explain in five minutes gets deferred for hours or days. Meanwhile as you follow the tangents, further questions arise. Is your original question forgotten? No, it is still out there, drawing you towards it via this loopy, squiggly, elliptical path. Teaching that is based on a fixed notion of the direct path may not allow for such digression. It may even subtly discourage it – akin to the terse “recalculating” one hears from navigation instruments in the car when one has veered away from the designated route. Yet the curiosity of children will keep these questions alive, patiently or impatiently awaiting their turn on the front burner.

If it takes two days to communicate a point that you thought would take five minutes, do you feel that time has been lost?  What happens when teaching complex concepts and skills – what if your child learns something months or years after the expected date? Sometimes people who want to trust the journey of learning find themselves wondering,

Is this child slow?  Is s/he falling behind?  Will it be difficult to catch up later?  Will it hurt if I push her or him?  At what point should I intervene?

Many people have written about these questions with well-reasoned points and evidence supporting a spectrum of approaches. Some suggest creative ways to encourage progress, indicators for intervention when there is no progress, or reassurance that it will happen in its own time.

Some will say, “they will learn it when they learn it.” Some will say, “they will learn it when they need it.”

But what is it? Do we know?

Maybe we do. Or maybe we only think we know.

Is my understanding, Wittgenstein asked, blindness to my lack of understanding? Often, he continued, it seems so to meii.

Me too! How often in school had I felt that I was expected to understand or at least pretend to understand something, glossing over whatever had made me reluctant to accept it. Years later, when I read Wittgenstein this sentiment helped me to understand my frustration, and reclaim my doubts throughout discussions of such concepts as normal force in physics or set in mathematics, considered too straightforward to interrogate.

“A set is a collection of objects,” I recall a teacher explaining. “So here, see this picture of various objects. I will draw a circle around it, now it is a set.”

Simple! But I did not understand. What exactly made this a set? Thinking back, it would probably have helped if someone had said, “set is a complex idea, there is a lot more to learn about it and some of it doesn’t even make sense, but that is part of what makes it fascinating. Today we are going to look at some simple examples, where we just circle things, call them sets, and consider how some sets are similar or different from others.”

“What makes something different?” That would have been my next question. Even if we didn’t pause right away to go down the roads exploring the definitions of set, same, different, it would have helped if we acknowledged that these were uncertain, and depended on more factors than we could ever pin down, rather than pretending that we knew just what they were and that the sensible response to a worksheet on the topic of sets was to circle the objects as instructed.

Such an acknowledgment is not unheard of. In fact, I can never forget the preface to my sixth grade math book. Meant for the teacher, it stated that “In this book we do not prove the commutative property or the identity property.” Amazing! So even statements like a=a or a+0=a or a+b=b+a could be proved, meaning they could also be questioned. How happy I was that the authors of the math textbook had chosen to confide this information in me.

Had they not done so, and regarded these equations as obvious, requiring no proof, then any question about them would have been regarded as pure nonsense, unthinkable. Now that they had acknowledged that it was indeed thinkable, not only could I patiently wait for higher level classes where we would be encouraged to think about such questions, but I could also have faith that the math I was part of something deeper, that touched the heart of what it meant to say a=a, indeed, what meaning was.

2.  Learning

Let me tell a story about our daughter and the (recently glamourous) subject of arithmetic.

From as far as we can remember, our daughter delighted in number, shape, order, series and various mathematical concepts.   She would observe shapes and patterns and then one fine day tell us something about them that would wow us.  She was equally thrilled to hear about math.  Indeed she heard math in places we would not have expected, casually comparing a musical piece to a multiplication process.

Everything reminded her of math.  She knew it too, and delighted in it.  While arranging her clothes in her shelves she referred to priority and order of operations.  While overhearing us refer to combinations and permutations in the context of tracing old classmates she immediately corrected us – “you can’t have permutations!”  Seeing our blank looks, she explained, “what would they do, enter the room in a different order?”

When it came to basic sums, though, she added on her fingers most of the time.  Would this be considered late?  Slow?

 

The Addition Table

The Addition Table

One day she arranged her dominoes in a pattern and called me to see that it served as an addition tableiii.   She arranged the dominoes such that you find the two numbers that need adding in their respective row and column, find where they intersect, and then count up all the dots on that domino. Most of us who do one-digit addition without thinking about it would find this more time consuming. If she had learned addition by heart then would she have ever devised this addition table? Arranged in various patterns, the dominoes illustrate concepts that might take a greater understanding of math or number theory to describe in words. And they get to the heart of what it means to add.  (She has demonstrated here.)

I bring this example up because when we talk about how unschooling facilitates learning at one’s own pace, most people think it means that we need to be patient with “slow” learning but rarely we get an example of learning that is made possible precisely because something else was not yet learned or was learned “slowly.”

If we rush to “understand” addition, as indicated by correctly and promptly adding given numbers, we may miss out on investigating what addition is, and what numbers are.

Had she memorized her basic addition facts, would she have devised an addition table?  Perhaps.  When?  Would that have been considered late?  Or slow?

What did she learn by making the addition table?  How was this learning facilitated by the fact that addition had not yet been ticked off her list of skills to master?

Learn as if you would live forever, said Mahatma Gandhi.  Not only will you be unafraid to learn something new, you will be unafraid not to know, and unafraid to say “I don’t know.” You will not fake it, you will not be rushed to learn something when you are arrested by something more fundamental.  And as we approach the answer to one question we may again find our path slowed by still further questions.

For example – when coming across the phrase “first prime minister” (of India), my daughter was not interested in the name corresponding to this epithet.  She wanted to know what this phrase meant.  A question about what the “first” of a kind could be, how a given specimen could be “first” of a kind at all.

Her question:  So did they already decide to call the person a Prime Minister?

As I collected my thoughts to answer, there came another question – But who, they?

A question about the nature of authority itself, who vests it in whom.   (Is this history?  Or math?  Or politics?  Or philosophy?)

And then:  When did they call it India?

Those who “know” the answer to the question “Who was India’s first prime minister?” would probably answer the question, quiz-show style.

But how would they “know” such information?   And how would they “know” that one responds to a question with “the answer” rather than with further questions?

Slow learning empowers the learner over the learned and values the slow in the spirit of the movements for slow food, slow money and slow love.

Of slow love, it is said, “Slow love is about knowing what you’ve got before it’s goneiv.”

You can look up the name of the prime minister.  But when you stop asking questions about first-ness and prime-ness, where do you go to tap into your earlier wonder about these concepts?

i Albert Einstein, “Space and Time in Classical Mechanics” in Relativity: The Special and General Theory. 1920. Accessed online from http://www.bartleby.com/173/3.html on June 19, 2013.

ii Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, §418.

iii I have described this in a comment posted on Peter Gray’s article, “Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning“ in his blog Freedom To Learn.

iv– Dominque Browning, Slow Love, pg. 5.


Slow Learning” also  appears on the website of Swashikshan: Indian Association of Homeschoolers.

Studying History

“Studying history is …. pretty much useless, isn’t it?” my daughter asked, as if it was fairly obvious.  “I mean why read about Columbus discovering America, when it isn’t even true?”

Alarmed.  All senses alert.
Mission: Rescue the field of history.   Why?  
 
Think.  Think.  
 
Meanwhile, don’t answer.   A weak response merely invites rebuttal.  Then what?  Stay calm.  Say nothing.  No one need get hurt.
 
Ah, now I remember what to do.   Listen. 
 
Do something.  Explain why we need to study history.   Justice – that’s right, we can start with justice.  Rosa Parks.  Freedom struggle.  Forest Rights.   Let’s just take care not get to too complicated.
 
The next morning as my daughter ate breakfast, I combed her hair.  I had my question ready and eased it ever so casually into the flow of braiding and talking. 
 
“Have you ever come across something that is not fair?”
 
“Yes,” she said, wailing.  She tends to take on the mood of whatever she is talking about.   “Like right now, I am finished with my oatmeal but you are only finished with one జడ (braid) and I don’t have anything to eat during the other జడ.”  
 
Okay.
 
As I took that in, she asked, “why did you ask me that?”
 
“Oh,” I chirped cheerily, “I just wanted to hear what you thought.”  
 
“That is nice” she said, genuinely appreciating it.  Trust me, she is not one to say “that’s nice” for no reason. 
 
On that happy note, we carried on an easy banter as I finished up the other braid.  No further inquiry.
 
Throughout the day I kept my troubles regarding the beleaguered field of history to myself.  I think a couple of times she may have continued thinking aloud about how she did not like history.  It was almost as if she liked the sound of it:  “I don’t like history.”  I thought, but did not say, things like, “you like history, you are only saying that because you have gotten some idea that history is boring …. probably picked this up from some character in one of your books[1].”
 
Later that night she asked me, “what does Machiavellian mean?”  She was reading The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, in which Anna had used the word, saying only “I will explain later,” when Batty, another character in the novel, asked her what it meant.
 
I couldn’t resist.  I said, “well I can tell you but it might involve a little bit of … history.”  We both giggled. 
 
In small bits, I explained, proceeding further only as the questions directed. 
 
It reminded me of an incident some years ago when cleaning our pichkari in preparation for Holi.  Branded in the plastic were the words “Made in Mumbai.”   Mumbai … Bombay … English … British … the conversation went all over the world and back.  Language, culture, power, land, water, salt, spice, east, west … we are still talking about it.  
 
Last summer in Maryland, we saw a car with a Delaware license plate.  Across the top it said “THE FIRST STATE.”
 
“Why does that say Delaware – the first state?” my daughter asked me. 
 
By now it was a running joke:   “Just to let you know, this might involve a little bit of history.”  As it turned out, it involved politics and ontology as well.  
 
Were they already called states?  she asked.  Who named it Delaware?  Was it like New York – named by the British, before they decided not to be British? 
 
Or later when they decided to call it the United States did they realize that the first one was Delaware?    What did it do first to become the first state?   Is Delaware also a Native American name?  Did the Native Americans want to name the state?
 
One day we saw Bhakta Prahlad (1967).  While observing the crowning of Prahlad, she asked, “how did the first king become king?”
 
Oh, yeah …
 
*  *  *  *  *
 
Now you may ask, can you really pursue history through the questions that come up while walking around and doing other things?  What about the people to whom you ask the questions … would the meandering route get you anywhere if those people hadn’t ever learned about the European Renaissance, and how the American constitution was ratified?  At some point don’t you also have to do the heavy reading for yourself?
 
And till that fine day comes when your curiosity drives you to read those works, what can you do to prepare?  Sure, maybe you spend years randomly asking questions and getting quick fill-ins from Wikipedia and then suddenly start reading Romila Thapar or Amartya Sen or Howard Zinn or Victoria Brown.  I can well imagine doing that.  I could also imagine missing the boat entirely.  Do we leave it up to chance?  
 
Such questions come up from time to time, especially for those whose children are learning outside of school, and possibly without any standardized curriculum.  Is there a plan to the learning, or is it driven by whim and fancy?  Granted, whim and fancy can take you a long way, usually via the scenic route.  But what about structured learning?  I think that structure materializes in various ways, and if we observe we might find, for example, that a child’s mind goes into active mode while taking a bath or getting ready for bed.  Some kids think better when in motion, or when they are interrupting you (as opposed to when you ask them a question and wait for them to answer).  Some kids cry when they don’t understand something, but that crying is part of their grappling with the problem.  Recognizing and respecting the structure that goes into each child’s learning process will help to keep the channels clear and unobstructed. 
 
Apart from the patterns that emerge, are there practices that we can encourage, that will help to build our capacity to learn various things?
 
This brings me to another answer on structure.  Consider a subject like history.   History is not something that others create and we consume.   History must be questioned at every turn – who said? how do you know? what if…?   But how do we learn how to question history?  
 
In fact children do ask these questions about every day happenings.  We can draw upon this inquisitive nature and apply it to the study of the past as well.  At the very least we can avoid suppressing these questions when they arise.  Questioning authority, vital for investigating the past, starts with questions like “why do we have to do this?” that can spark intriguing discussions. 
 
I believe that one should learn history by learning to work like a historian, to think like a historian.   Before my child reads the history that is written by others, I would like her to try coming up with some of her own questions and finding something out about history.  We have, for example, interviewed people in the neighbourhood.  So far we have found out more about the mechanics of setting up and conducting an interview than about any particular historical or social question, but this is important too.  When we read interviews of others, it gives us some insight into what it takes to set the stage.  We have also looked around the house and neighbourhood and made a kind of game of asking, “what happened here in the last few hours or days and what is our evidence for saying so?”  “How reliable is this evidence?”  “What might possibly make us doubt this evidence?”  “What alternate explanations are there?”  
 
This practice will equip us to ask similar questions while reading history, so that we can evaluate sources and compare perspectives.  At a more elementary level, a game like Chinese whispers, illustrating how a message gets distorted as it passes through various transmitters (people) can also sharpen one’s critical faculties when reading others’ accounts of what happened. 
 
[1] Or was it in one of my books?  I had recently been reading James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me.  Loewen writes,
“[P]rofessional historical organizations for at least a century have repeatedly exhorted teachers not to teach history as fact memorization. ‘Stir up the minds of the pupils,’ cried the American Historical Association in 1893; ‘avoid stressing dates, names, and specific events, ‘historians urged in 1934. . . . Nevertheless, teachers continue to present factoids for students to memorize.”  
I don’t think she read the book, but I am just saying, I need not turn to a juvenile novel to track down the sentiment that history class is boring.  Historians themselves have been complaining about it for years.