My History With History

Originally published July 2015

In honor of a holiday that is half about history, half about making poor decisions with fireworks, I’m going to focus on of my favorite topics: history. More specifically, how my high school experience at Garnet Valley High School shaped my love for the subject.

My relationship with history began a bit rocky. When I was in middle school I remember hating it. I’m not sure if it was because of the way it was presented, the actual subject, or because my dad loved it and I was 13 so I couldn’t agree with anything he liked, but up until my sophomore year, history and I just did not mesh.

My sophomore year that changed. I had a wonderful teacher, Justin Trabocco, who inspired me to start loving history. It was AP European History, my first advanced placement course, and he taught it like no one taught a class before. We were no longer visiting random parks and battlefields without learning what actually happened prior to attendance, or playing games related to the Oregon Trail without truly understanding the hardships of the Oregon Trail, or, worse yet, shaving Barbies and mummifying them to learn about Egypt’s culture. He stood up, for 80 minutes, and just spoke. Sometimes we would have videos, but most of the time it was just him speaking, with only a few notes on the board as a guide.

I loved it. He was the first teacher to ever lecture to me, a style of teaching I would find over the years to be my favorite. His tests were the hardest I had ever taken up to that point, and on a DBQ (document based question) he would crucify you. It was wonderful. I don’t ever truly remember being challenged before his class, and it really revved me up for all my future classes. I would even say that without Mr. Trabocco’s class, I would be struggling something fierce in my college classes, because he prepared me so well.

European history was interesting, but it wasn’t my favorite. I had to learn it, and learn it in depth, but I didn’t like focusing on so many countries at once, I wanted to be able to flesh each one out. Fast forward one year to my AP American History class with Keith Layman.

Mr. Layman taught class completely different than Mr. Trabocco. Where we had lectures in Mr. Trabocco’s class, we now had Prezi presentations, quiz games involving a basketball hoop, and interactive activities. Mr. Layman was completely different from Mr. Trabocco, but both were amazing in their own ways. Mr. Layman helped me fall in love with American history, something I will continue to be grateful to him for. He would always talk more in depth about a subject if he saw that a student was interested, either by focusing on it more in class, or spending as much time as necessary discussing it after class.

The best paper I have ever written was for Mr. Layman. One of our assignments at the end of the year was to write a research paper on a topic of choice, and to really dig down deep into primary and secondary sources to back up our claims. He pushed us to write to the best of our capabilities, and submit it to a yearly contest some museum runs. While mine didn’t qualify for an award, Mr. Layman inspired me to devote hours upon hours researching my topic (Abraham Lincoln and his struggle with depression) to the point that I ended up purchasing books to read over the summer on my topic, as it had interested me so much. Some of my favorite aspects of history were taught in Mr. Layman’s class, and without him my love for history might have trailed off.

My next year I took a class that was less straight forward when it came to history, but equally as important in my book: Political Science with Edward Campbell. This class, on the surface, was interesting to me because we learned another side of American History. While a portion of the class gave another aspect of history, such as talking about presidential powers and then discussing famous pardons throughout American history (three biggest ones were Nixon, Vietnam draft dodgers, and members of the Confederacy, for those keeping score), my favorite part was unique to Mr. Campbell’s class: current events.

Coming into Mr. Campbell’s class I thought I knew current events. I could tell you who was president, and what countries we got along with best, and I would pat myself on the back and consider myself well educated. After a week in his class I realized how little I knew. Mr. Campbell spent at times the majority of the class focused on what was going on in the world around us. I learned how relations with Iran were, who John Boehner was, and how Congress was voting on different bills. I could tell you the unemployment rate, approval ratings, and what year key people were up for reelection. All of a sudden things made sense.

I became very invested into this portion of the class. Instead of just sitting and listening to what Mr. Campbell said the top news stories were, I wanted to contribute, having read the articles myself. I started watching The Daily Show and reading CNN’s Top 5 in the Morning. Once I started to learn who key figures in the news were, and how they felt about certain issues, I felt more knowledgable. I loved, and still love, the feeling that comes with truly knowing about something greater than myself. When I didn’t know much about the world at large I didn’t understand how current issues like a potential Grexit or an Asian trade deal could impact me. Now I understand not only how politics works, but how it impacts my daily life.

Even today, as a future sophomore in college, the need to keep on top of the news is a part of me. I read the Skimm (a daily newsletter) pretty much every day, and watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver the day after it airs. I have notifications for my CNN app, and read the news when I’m bored. Thanks to Mr. Campbell’s integration of current events in the class, and his willingness to discuss current events outside of class, I feel as though I am a more interesting person. All of a sudden events in history have more meaning, because I understand the pains that went into passing laws, electing presidents, and declaring war. Mr. Campbell is one of those teacher that truly changed me forever as a student, and as a future learner.

Garnet Valley High School’s history department made me into the person I am today. They ignited a passion in me from the tender age of 15, a passion that has stuck with me today. My interest in history has led to me exploring the history department at Northeastern University (where I want to take a solid half of the classes), and has even led me to my second minor, International Affairs. Without Mr. Trabocco, Mr. Layman, and Mr. Campbell, I might not have ended up where I am, or ever truly discovered a passion of mine.