Teens explaining historical events to each other in 15 second videos
November 5, 2019 3:42 AM   Subscribe

literally obsessed with teens posting history tiktoks so here’s a thread (Twitter thread by Nadia Jaferey). The Guardian’s Poppy Noor asked her old history teacher Izzy Jones what she thinks of teens making short videos about history.
posted by Kattullus (29 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
This makes me so happy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Well this is good. I have to report as a professor of 25 years, most of them at an elite university, that the level of historical ignorance even among the privileged and well educated kids (the kind who took AP history in high school) is, well, shocking to me. Maybe I’m just getting to be a grumpy old man, or maybe I was just as ignorant at 20 (I don’t think so though, although two parents with PhDs in history may have helped). But I keep finding myself teaching the most remedial histories of things like the Vietnam war and Reconstruction, in my case (music prof) just to be able to discuss the cultural products of those eras. On the other side, I ask rooms full of students — including f’ing science majors — to tell me how old, approximately, human language or agriculture is, and I get blank looks or absurdly wrong guesses. So I wind up teaching basic evolutionary bio and anthropology a lot too. To students who seem like they ought to already know this stuff from their high school educations. Like come on, were you asleep in that AP course or was your teacher that bad?

I partly blame the internet, as I myself have succumbed to “you can look this up later” thinking. And the hot take. And the reductive meme. And the distraction from learning details that take time and effort to master. But whatever the cause, and I’m sure it’s real, there’s been a noticeable decline in background operating knowledge of basic timelines and key facts of history, recent or ancient, among my students over the course of 25 years, or I’m a whole lot grumpier than I used to be, or both.

I shudder to think how bad the historical knowledge is among less well educated kids. And at a time when knowledge of history is politically so important, too.

TLDR anything that actually teaches and engages young people with the facts as well as the interpretation of history is desperately needed.
posted by spitbull at 4:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


Have to admit, I have no idea how old language is. How would we know? Presumably it' s at least as old as cave art, I suppose.
posted by thelonius at 5:15 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


he level of historical ignorance even among the privileged and well educated kids

At the risk of being ok-boomered, they are the product of a culture that tells them that they are what's important, that now is the only thing that matters, that life was not worth living before smartphones and memes.
posted by thelonius at 5:17 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh god, you guys are like parodies of yourselves. There's not enough ok boomer in the world. So I will only say that history education is an extremely low priority in US schools, in part because it's usually not covered by high-stakes tests. As a result of being a low priority, the job of being history teacher is often given to a coach, typically the football coach. And there are some perfectly fine football coach history teachers, but there are a lot of garbage ones, many of whom are politically reactionary and only interested in the most old-school kind of military and political history. So not only do students not learn history, but a lot of them are totally turned off by history, because they think it's memorizing the dates of various battles. I am actually not convinced that students are more historically illiterate than past generations were, but if they are, you can blame the old people who determine educational policy, not the students themselves.

Also, the history tiktoks are amazing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2019 [41 favorites]


It's a generation that takes multiple choice tests at least twice a year to measure some sort of progress for funding, class placement and/or school choices very single year in the US
Some of those tests determine literal class credits worth thousands of dollars, college admissions and scholarships also with alot of money, and that's father down the pipeline from where or tests scores litterally help fund the schools we attend. Our performance has been measured and monetized.

Of course the relational part of history about how one historical era relates to another gets lost in that, but it is hardly the kids fault.

I'm very interested in this and I love that this exists.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:51 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious, your comment is eponysterical and an awful generalization. Educational policy towards history IS generally awful - BUT it is absolutely high stakes (at least here in Florida) with multiple required history classes and comprehensive End of Course evaluations that play a significant role in teacher scores and school scores. It's not just football coaches phoning in history classes. You are more likely to find history majors with masters degrees. There are a lot of kids who don't give a shit about learning, who don't have the discipline to watch a 3 minute video, and whose attention spans are pretty much shot due to a lifetime of iPhone-induced dopamine rushes, which makes anything resembling traditional learning beyond boring to them. There are some *great* kids out here doing some *great* work. But there is a real issue with the new generations and their willingness and ability to learn and retain information.

Sincerely, a high school history teacher.
posted by gnutron at 6:22 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


[Quick note, all: please take the time to check out the links and read the article, and be sure you are actually responding to the post rather than just a reflexive sort of "the youth today" thing? Thank you.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:48 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Educational policy towards history IS generally awful - BUT it is absolutely high stakes (at least here in Florida) with multiple required history classes and comprehensive End of Course evaluations that play a significant role in teacher scores and school scores.

Oh hai. I took these classes in my Central Florida high school. My teacher constantly bragged about his MA in American History. He mostly made us memorize dates so we could pass the test. I didn't learn any real shit about American history until I read some Chomsky and took Early American Literature in college.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ok, these kids know way more about colonialism and imperialism than any formal history class I've experienced has EVER addressed.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:14 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


As a potential peace accord about the "what's wrong with history classes today" debate, I would gently suggest everyone read the book Lies My Teacher Told Me, which suggests the weak link in the history-education chain is not the teachers nor the schools, but the textbooks themselves. I agree that the way history is being taught in this country is abysmal - but that is not the fault of the teachers nor the students, but rather the fault of textbook authors and publishers, who struggle to satisfy as many different audiences as possible for their books and satisfy as many different external forces as they can - and are also often trying to "appeal to kids" about was well as Steve Buscemi did in that SNL skit ("Hello, fellow kids!"), and so they end up watering things down like whoa and making it boring as hell. They avoid anything politically controversial, they gloss over the very parts of history that would appeal to students, they stick to boring trivia.

I'd also suggest that the disengagement from students isn't because they're stupid - it's because they're smart. They are too smart to trust the line of rah-rah jingoism being sold in the textbooks, so they tune out. I notice that a lot of the videos here take a critical eye of the West and of Colonialist Europe. Those are topics that rarely get addressed in high school history classes - I grant that I'm some years out of school, but I remember that being glossed over as a rah-rah-Manifest-Destiny thing with little to no attention paid to other peoples' rights. That would be too political a topic. But these kids are too smart to fall for that; they know the flip side of the legacy of colonialism, and that's the world they live in and they know that the story is different. Some history teachers include that in their lesson plans, but most teachers probably have their hands tied by their school boards and the parents in the community (not too much of a stretch to imagine that in cases where a teacher introduces some independent stuff about Jim Crow laws and the legacy of Reconstruction, surely some parents end up complaining to the school board).

So the teachers are stuck rambling boring sanitized facts, the kids tune out, and no one really learns anything and we are doomed to repeat our history.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


(Hit post too soon)

And that is why this makes me happy, because it's a case where some students are finding a way to show other students facts about history in a way that they can relate to and it's the kind of things they want to know about, yay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:23 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Every response in this thread so far is wrong. History education in the US has always been atrociously bad, and the educated of every generation have always looked with horror upon their successors. No subject excites such dismay as the always-abysmal ignorance of history among the up-and-coming.

The earliest example of this that I have seen personally (sorry no link or cite) was from the 1930s, I think, bemoaning the fact that even well-educated American high school graduates could not, for the most part, explain which nations had been on which side in the Great War, and that they were fuzzy on the dates and events of the War Between the States.

@spitbull,
But I keep finding myself teaching the most remedial histories of things like the Vietnam war and Reconstruction...
Why would you expect otherwise? These topics are prize culture war targets for the Right, who want nothing taught that might contradict their side of the story: their side of the story is unmitigated bullshit, and teachers are often reluctant to teach outright lies, so as a consequence nothing of consequence is taught.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I teach Architectural and Engineering History to 4th semester students each spring. I agree with Spitbull that it is often amazing what the students don't know, stuff I'm certain they should have learnt in elementary and secondary schools. On the other hand, I'm also the mother of two and specially with number one, also the hostess of exam study central for three years of secondary school (high school), and I am aware that for many teenagers, history is not a top priority. Actually very few subjects are the top priority of a majority of teens. They know they have to pass exams to get on in life, but whatever they learn to pass those exams will disappear from their brains just one hour into the holidays. My daughters and their friends were focused on the humanities back then, and still didn't have any sort of historical overview. My students are STEM-focused, and I'm always impressed when they are able to read more than 3 pages of history, let alone the text-book I am forced to work with. I'm happy that they attend class.
A couple of years later, they are so ready to learn. Just today, a colleague was showing a group of students a type of house plan in a design class I also teach, and a young woman who is not at all at the front of the class lit up: oooh, I remember that from mumimor's other class! Back then she was really struggling to process all the information, now the Tetris are falling into their places. I love seeing that.
What I want to say is: whatever engages them is good. If they remember that the US Civil War came after the Revolution, that's amazing. If just two in a class understand critical analysis, I'll be thrilled. Maybe I should assign TikToks for this spring's class.
posted by mumimor at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


But there is a real issue with the new generations and their willingness and ability to learn and retain information.

history education in the US and presumably the rest of the western imperialist world has always been dominated by educators of the middleaged privileged cishet white male persuasion and by education about historical figures predominantly from that very same demographic. blaming the lack of interest displayed in these things, by more recent generations of kids who are fortunately aware that this narrowminded view of human existence is not the full picture, on technology, aka the actual reason they are aware that the view itself is narrowminded, is laughable to the point that i suspect you are doing a bit.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


I am actually not convinced that students are more historically illiterate than past generations were

As well you shouldn't be. I'm either a tag-end boomer or an early Gen-Xer (I identify more with the latter), and you are correct that the teaching of history in the US has been hit-or-miss (at best) for a long time. "Kids these days" and "Teh Internet" have nothing to do with it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


poffin boffin, with all due respect, I think it’s laughable to suggest that students’ lack of interest in scholastic success is due to their perception beyond the facade of imperialist cishet domination of education. Technology is changing the way kids learn, and I don’t consider that an arguable point. As educators, we have to recognize that and adapt.
posted by gnutron at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


i mean for fuck's sake

- class sizes are too large
- primary education classes start too early in the day
- schools are gruesomely underfunded
- educators are obnoxiously underpaid and undervalued in society
- US curriculum and pedagogy are largely focused on preparing students for surviving the drudgery of capitalism instead of on the excitement of learning new things simply for the joy of learning them
- children can't fucking afford to eat food in school and more than half the country thinks that's fine and that they should go to jail for this

but yeah it's probably the phones

christ
posted by poffin boffin at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [25 favorites]


I think it’s laughable to suggest that students’ lack of interest in scholastic success is due to their perception beyond the facade of imperialist cishet domination of education.

....You think a kid who's grown up the child of a single parent of color who's been busting her ass trying to make ends meet, while their white classmate is the daughter of a banker who actually holds the mortgage on their house and has extra tutors and shit, isn't going to suspect that something's fishy about the history class teaching that America is "the land of opportunity"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


This one (probably too old to have been included in the original lsit) is one of my favorites.
posted by mhum at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of kids who don't give a shit about learning, who don't have the discipline to watch a 3 minute video, and whose attention spans are pretty much shot due to a lifetime of iPhone-induced dopamine rushes

Oh piffle, teenagers have been like that since way before personal computers were even invented.

Sincerely, a former high school student
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I have neither the pop culture knowledge nor the history knowledge to understand 80% of these.

But I looooove them.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:56 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


i took APUSH and AP Euro six years ago and 1) only kind of learned anything useful or contextual in apush, nothing in euro 2) have since learned that a lot of it was, if not wrong, not even close to the whole story, and i had a relatively good teacher. i also didn't really retain anything past the civil war, and i'd guess that's because that and only that era was already hammered into my head in every other history class i'd had.

i did quiz bowl and obviously the richer schools generally had a better grasp on history questions, but the kids in our school that did good did so because they independently sought out and researched the stuff they were interested in (which i've finally started to do).

also, i love the person with socks on their head for the founding father wig
posted by gaybobbie at 2:06 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I’m going to leave this thread now but I would like to say that I didn’t really expect MeFi to be yet another place where the perspectives of a teacher are instantly invalidated by people who don’t spend year after year around hundreds of teenagers.
posted by gnutron at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


To be fair, most of us have spent some years around quite a few of them ourselves...
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:22 PM on November 5, 2019


Honestly, I bet if you asked most of us on the street exactly how old human agriculture is I bet you'd get a blank look and a "uhhhhhh old as... balls?" in response, because it's a fact that 1) doesn't get a lot of emphasis in the modern curriculum 2) isn't in fact very relevant to anyone's daily life unless they're into very ancient history.

I won't argue that history knowledge in the US is abysmal, but most classes are structure to teach to the test and many teachers stay away from the late 20th century entirely. I took AP US history and we covered 1970-2001 in like a week because the APUSH test stays away from "controversial" recent content. AP World History was a one-year course and I remember almost nothing from it. Hammurabi's code of law? That's basically it.

I got 5s (the highest score) on both AP tests and would not have been able to tell you anything but the broadest strokes a year later because that information wasn't being reinforced in my daily life. At least stuff like TikToks or the History of Japan Youtube meme present that knowledge somewhere other than the classroom. Seriously though, I invite you all to think back to your high school history classes, or even your daily life 2-3 years ago, and try to recall the minute details of what was going on. It's probably really hard! Human brains are bad at this!
posted by storytam at 2:32 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


nadia jaferey: yall i think i accidentally put the boomers on to tiktok and im sorry
posted by mammal at 10:14 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


My students damn sure dont “know more about” colonialism or imperialism or racism or genocide. I teach mostly Native American studies topics. They rarely know anything at the start. They know they shouldn’t like imperialism and colonialism, but they don’t know the tribe that lived on the land where they are sitting in class. They don’t know about Wounded Knee. They don’t know about allotment. Etc.

I’m not a boomer. I’m early genx. I teach Ivy League students and have for 24 years. I have a longitudinal baseline with this. I teach more remedial history today than I did a decade ago or 20 years ago just to introduce the subjects of colonialism and imperialism and genocide. So no, they’re not more woke. They’re more ignorant of history. In fact their ignorance makes their “wokeness” a defensive pose. It simplifies and trivializes complex histories of struggle.

And I’m perfectly willing to blame their parents and their schools and their media. Obviously I don’t blame them. I teach them.

I have no idea how old language is. How would we know? Presumably it' s at least as old as cave art, I suppose.

We do know, although the exact dividing line between protolanguage and modern human language keeps getting pushed back. Basically it’s a shockingly recent 250,000 years or so. We know because language is the essential adaptation for human social organization and innovation- or culture. There is also significant fossil record evidence of rapid changes in human physical morphology that correspond to language becoming the most important tool of our species.

By the time humans are making cave art and holding funerals for their dead language has to have been well along.
posted by spitbull at 5:37 AM on November 6, 2019


I know this is going to sound like a 3 am stoned-college-student question, but it's sincere: what exactly is the working definition of "language", actually? As opposed to "proto-language"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


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