To the Editor:
After reading James M. Banner Jr.’s Commentary “‘Teachers of Ambition’” (Sept. 8, 2004), I truly wondered what type of teachers he had read about or come in contact with that he believes they do not possess professional ambition. Does he have criteria for what makes a “better historian” or “better teacher”? If he does, he didn’t include them in his essay. My fellow schoolteachers are ambitious people and good storytellers (which usually makes for great historians), in addition to being great communicators and conveyers of knowledge.
For every person, there is a journey in the quest of becoming a historian. For me, it began with a trip to Europe I took during college. Grasping history from a book is so difficult, but in European cities and countrysides, history is all around you. Most teachers I know have limited backgrounds in American history, probably because, for many Americans, it is hard to see the impact of history in such a young country. Going to Europe made me more interested in and aware of the stories of America.
Visiting Williamsburg, Va., is one of the greatest experiences I have had in American history. The re-enactments presented there and the staged “conversations” with historical figures like Thomas Jefferson make ambitions soar and ideas expand. But far too few teachers get to experience all that Williamsburg has to offer, as I have. The re-creation of period trials, the late-night storytelling, and the ability to learn the social aspects of Colonial life are outstanding learning experiences.
Did it ever dawn on anyone that even though our country is rich in history, that history is not as apparent or accessible as it is in older cultures and societies? If most teachers applied for grants to immerse themselves in history so that they could gain knowledge and debate and discuss it with collegial staff members, they would be accused of simply trying to get a great vacation.
I don’t think any historian has the right to decide who is or isn’t a historian. Mr. Banner’s implication that most teachers lack ambition, vision, and a sense of history offended me. Why in education is everything one-size-fits-all? I’m thankful my journey does not include people with such a narrow vision of others.