Oh yes, I teach writing to adults, and some sort of drama classes to middle-graders – or rather a kind of semi-curricular program combining history, writing and drama. It’s a nice little thing, and it usually works well enough, and yet, while the final outcome has always been quite satisfactory so far, each time I arrive to the end confirmed in my certainty that I was not born to be a teacher.
Still, there is one thing in the “history” part of History Onstage that I truly love. It is when, early on, I explain that history is not a list of kings, battles, innovations, economic factors and revolutions, but something very much like a river. It has depth, it has many currents, and everything that happens at any point – every choice, every, change, every mistake – deeply influences everything that happens downstream.
Unfailingly, one or two kids out of the whole bunch see it as a huge revelation. An entirely new idea, one they like and, in a few best cases, changes at least a little the way they look at history. These are the moments when I briefly consider the notion that I might like to teach history. Not seriously, because I have a number of teacher friends, and a retired teacher for a mother, so I know just how dismally hard it can be most of the time, even discounting the little matter of my non-existing patience. It’s a kind of idle what-if, sparked off by the occasional little epiphany I see. And within that What If, I know for instance that there are three books I’d have my pupils read as they grow up.
The first is the National Portrait Gallery’s little anthology Imagined Lives, to give them a sense of all the lives that made up history – most of them forgotten in their detail, the individuals who lived through the events we now study in books. Then Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, in the hope that they may learn to question absolute truths, clichés and prejudice. And then Rodney Bolt’s History Play, to give them a taste of the rings one can dance around facts…
Oh, it would be all very unorthodox, and all the more because I’d go on telling them about the story of Roger de La Flor, and the iridescence of history, and how hard it is to know… I doubt it would be a very good idea, after all, to stuff middle-graders’ heads with this sort of doubts. They’d better learn they history perhaps, before they are led to question it. Still, considering how dismally it is taught only too often in Italy, will they still want to question it when they’ve grown to hate the subject?
I don’t know – but perhaps it just goes to prove a little further that I was not born to teach. Perhaps I’m better off sparking off the occasional little epiphany, and leaving it at that.