by Dale Schlundt
Students come from vast and diverse backgrounds. By the time they enter into post-secondary schools, they have not only witnessed a tremendous amount of their parent's experiences, but have also created some of their own. Speaking from a pedagogical perspective, this gives them a rich background to draw from when studying life from a textbook. Even more significant is sharing and ultimately combining these experiences creates their own verbal in class textbook from which we can all take lessons.
For instance, in discussing the creation of Social Security during the Great Depression, it seems so distant and unimportant — even to me at the ripe old age of 32. That is until we speak with "grandparents"; perhaps a student has a grandparent who is disabled and has no other option then to collect social security benefits. Although Social Security benefits are not known for giving an individual a life of luxury, it may be sustaining a "quality of life" that the student has observed. In an instance, 1935 becomes, to say the least, real.
When a student is debating the prospects of joining the military, needless to say an important decision in the time period in which we are living, stories from living relatives only adds to both the pros and cons of essentially allowing your government to be the decision maker of your own fate. Of the many heroes who have dedicated their life to our country, one cannot forget the ever increasing stories of veterans who have not only lost their lives, but those who are permanently disabled as a result of the many conflicts of our country. Conflicts in which they had no personal voice or choice in the matter once enlisted. As a professor I took in college once eloquently stated, "I support any president that supports war, as long as he sends his children in first." Korea and Vietnam quickly come to mind.
There are countless cities in the U.S. now that lend themselves well the discussion of multicultural issues. Race and gender relations have consistently been a core topic in many disciplines within higher education. Whether it is the glass ceiling that women have combated since the early 20th century, continuing to do so, or the minority striving for equality. These hurdles are not far from home. If students have not witnessed this first hand, they have without a doubt had discussions with relatives who have personally dealt with these issues. As I always point out the my students, the textbooks detail in great measure the African American plight for equality, yet the Mexican American fight for the same has been just as steep of a hill to climb. However, being more regionally focused, it has not always had a national spotlight in comparison.
In any class, whether it is business, psychology, or history, the minute the information is perceived to be only theoretical and not "real", it becomes irrelevant to the student. As educators and a society, let us encourage students to share these family stories, ultimately becoming a supplement to the textbook and therefore making elements of any book being used real.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master's Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College, Our Lady of the Lake University, and Northwest Vista College. Dale has written two books, Tracking Life's Lessons: Through Experiences, History, and a Little Interpretation and Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings).