I have always loved history. Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember my excitement from getting a history book as my Christmas present, or my grandparents sending me an Encyclopedia of the Presidents one year when I turned 10. Even in Canada, with its lack of any real wars or revolutions, I still enjoyed learning about the history and the people who lived there.
Last year, I had the opportunity to take an advanced placement class of World History. The pace was rigorous, but I learned so much about how our world fits together and the invisible threads that make it the way that it is today. I loved being able to understand our current world better from a perspective of the past. I also really deeply enjoyed the class because the teacher, Mr. McDaniel, a balding man in his early forties, was even more passionate about history than I was. He would get sidetracked sometimes, telling us stories about medieval torture or the fall of Rome or whether or not it was okay for him to throw his wedding ring across the classroom. His class was one of my favourites I have taken in high school so far.
Another reason I enjoyed the class so much was because I was being challenged. I have always enjoyed pushing myself, be it in academics, physically, or in acting; I always like having the bar set just a little high to see if I can reach it. Because this class was the level of an average History 101 course in college, it was fair to say that I was getting my fair dose of challenge. However, this was last year.
This year, all of the juniors are required by Indiana state standards to take U. S. History. We talked many times in AP World History about how our class was the ‘chosen few’ of Maple Ridge High School, even from third grade, and how we wouldn’t really like being in U. S. History because it was a general education course and we would be mixed in with all of the other people in our class, regardless of academic rigour or dedication to school work. U. S. History has certainly been that.
Another thing that’s different about U. S. History is that, even though it is dual credit, the class is not an AP course. This means that the textbook went from being something a college Freshman would be expected to read and understand, with a lot of text and a few informational pictures here and there, to having highlighted words and silly questions like “How can you relate the Civil Right’s Movement to your life today?” Needless to say, I am not really being challenged in this class, and when I’m not being challenged, I tend to get lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I still work. I still have an A in the class. It’s just not nearly as challenging, or therefore as interesting, as other classes like AP Chemistry or AP World History.
Lastly, the thing that makes the greatest difference in my mind is the teacher. Where Mr. McDaniel is fun and gets sidetracked on relevant stories about history, Mr. Dericks, my current U. S. History teacher, tends to get sidetracked on stories of drunk men he saw on spring break in Florida or former students. Where Mr. McDaniel is cultured and travelled, Mr. Dericks has more of an intimate knowledge of how things work in the Maple Ridge area. A combination of all of these things makes U. S. History one of my least favourite classes I’m taking right now.
Because of this, and because of little prideful excuses I make in my mind, I tell myself that I don’t really have to pay attention in U. S. History, that the stories about a student Mr. Dericks had five years ago who never went on to be a successful businessman or the stories of his first encounter with a black person in college aren’t important. Sometimes, I feel myself above what he’s saying, that it could never be relevant to me.
Such an event happened today. We started our next chapter, which happened to be about the Vietnam War. Mr. Dericks showed us a few videos about the Vietnam War, and then, of course, proceeded to tell stories that I wrote off a useless before I even heard what they were. So of course, I tuned out, and decided it would be a better use of my time if I read my book about a fantasy world I had never heard of and never will see instead of paying attention to the history of our country and the small, microhistories of the Maple Ridge community. So I read and didn’t pay attention to what Mr. Dericks was saying for a solid half hour until the bell rang.
After class, I got up to walk out of the door, but Mr. Dericks stopped me.
“Sophia,” he said in his demanding teacher voice. “I need to talk to you.”
“Okay,” I said, waving my friends Margaret and Marissa on ahead of me. Mr. Dericks started to say something, but then another student came up to talk to him. “What, Keegan?” Mr. Dericks said, answering Keegan’s question quickly and with a slightly annoyed colour to his words. Then he turned back to me.
“Are you a good student?”
“I guess so…” I responded, my hands absentmindedly fiddling, wanting to make a gesture of apology that I had been reading about in my fantasy book.
“Is everything alright? Is there something going on that’s wrong that I need to know about?” Mr. Dericks asked, his voice gentle and his eyes sincere. “You just seem to not be paying as much attention as you normally do.” I flushed a little bit and looked down, embarrassed.
“Is that a good book?” he asked, changing tack, gesturing to the fantasy book I had been reading.
“Yeah. I like it a lot.”
“What kind of book is it?”
“Fantasy,” I replied. “It’s the second book in the series. And it’s really good.” His eyes seemed to brighten a little with an idea.
“Is that what you do to escape? Is this kind of your escape time?”
“I guess so.”
“So you are stressed out about something?”
“Well, I have a lot of AP tests and things like that coming up soon.” How could I tell him I didn’t like the class? Was I supposed to say I didn’t like him as a teacher? Was I supposed to tell him about my life in theatre as well, about the show that we’re doing about the Holocaust right now? I thought about saying something, but all of those words felt like excuses in my mouth.
“All right. Well, we don’t have that much left. We just have the Vietnam War, and then a few more units and we’re done,” he said, his brown eyes smiling. “Just make sure you’re paying attention and reading,” he said, specifically tapping my U. S. History book.
“I will,” I said. He smiled at me, then walked away to go help Keegan who had another question. I joined my friends in the hallway, and Margaret greeted me with a smile, and then, seeing that I wasn’t smiling, she asked “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
“Your face looks like a mixture of sad and annoyed.” then she grinned. “Sannoyed!” she said triumphantly. I laughed and said “Sinusoid!” the new hybrid word making me think of the Pre-Calc term. Margaret made a face, then continued on her way down the hallway.
Margaret was only partially right. I suppose my face did look like I was sad and annoyed, and I suppose I was. I was sad and disappointed with myself that I had been rather disrespectful to Mr. Dericks. I was annoyed that Mr. Dericks hadn’t been more mad, that he hadn’t yelled at me. He had been nothing but kind, only offering a private, gentle reproach instead of chewing me out for reading in front of the whole class.
As right as Margaret was, I would describe the emotion as being humbled. I hadn’t noticed it until Mr. Dericks pointed it out so gently, but I’ve had a lot of pride in my heart recently. My pride has been not letting me talk to other people in Spanish, something I love to do, because I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid and that my pride will be hurt. My pride hasn’t allowed me to ask for help on AP Chemistry because I believe I have to figure it out. My pride hasn’t allowed me to be real with other people or say what I’m really thinking because they might think badly or differently of me. The list goes on and on and on.
But most shockingly, and most importantly, my pride has had me believe that my stories, the ones I want to read and write and tell, are more important than Mr. Dericks’ stories about real people and places or are more important than my friends’ stories. How can I call myself a global citizen and a writer if I don’t even consider certain kinds of stories to be worth the telling? If my stories are the only in the world being told, then it would be a very sad world, and as flat and two dimensional as my pride. All of our stories and our histories are important, and every story that we have and that we tell is just one of the colourful patches in the veritable ocean of human existence. All stories are important, and all stories need to be told, even the ones that make you roll your eyes in U. S. History and want to escape to another world. Sometimes, the stories you would want to run away from the most are the stories that are most worth the telling.