The comic strip below, from Ray Billingsley’s Curtis, is one of my favorites. In recent years, I have shared it on Parents’ Night. I project it for parents to read as they enter, and it usually gets a few chuckles. Once everyone is seated, I tell them, “This is what I will be teaching your children this year.” That elicits some quizzical looks, and before the crowd turns hostile, I have to clarify: “Don’t worry—I don’t plan to teach your kids to critique your vices. In many ways, though, I think the skills that Curtis exhibits in this strip are the same skills I hope to cultivate in your children.”
Based on his dad’s parting comment, Curtis clearly has no great affection for history, and yet he has learned—somewhere—how to stake out a position and how to marshal evidence from a variety of sources in support of it. Considering that few, if any, of my students will go on to become professional historians, I believe that these are some of the most important things they will learn in my classroom.
The sad but true reality is that students will likely forget much of the content I teach them after they leave my classroom. (In fact, the blank stares I sometimes get when I refer to previous content later in the year suggests that they forget some of it before they leave my classroom!) But the ability—and perhaps more importantly, the inclination—to read widely, think critically, and make persuasive arguments supported by evidence will serve them well no matter their chosen field.