Some of the most popular television shows and movies are the ones that leave their audience anticipating what is going to happen next. When the writers create a story line that is intriguing and leaves the viewer curious, they have gotten their viewer invested in that story. Once they have an audience that is invested, they can rely on the fact that the viewer is going to engage every episode. Teaching history is a lot like creating suspenseful entertainment.
The book Teaching U.S. History as Mystery is focused on educating teachers on how to turn the monotonous way of teaching history into a story that captures their students attention. It goes without saying that history classes can be dull and boring when the majority of teaching is just trying to get students to remember dates and facts. There are so many moments throughout history that are still filled with questions and doubts rather than certainties and absolute truths. The moment that teachers begin to have students actually work in class is the moment that the doors open to presenting the story of history as a suspenseful, never certain, mind testing, deep, and complex mystery. One of the goals of teaching is to make sure that every student is successful and that they feel like they have accomplished something. In the book the authors write, “In the rush to cover everything in an inoffensive way, they never let students work at any of the little mysteries that can be so much fun to tackle, and so satisfying to solve”. By giving students these opportunities to take what is out there (sources, evidence, facts) and try and piece them together to come up with a conclusion, gives them an avenue to actually invest into something much more meaningful than passing a test.
Using examples that David Gerwin and Jack Zevin did in this book give us only a glimpse of the kinds of opportunities there are out there for teacher to incorporate a mystery into their classrooms. Rather than spoiling the ending for students from the beginning, allow them to use the imagination that we often suppress to come up with their own story. Lets face it, history is basically a bunch of stories put together to come up with a narrative that we teach so lets let our students become a part of the creation of that narrative.