“The people have grown very wild and loose in their morals.”—Peter Stuyvesant
Opinion: the average person finds history boring. There are no hard or fast statistics to back this statement up, I only mention it because of experiences I’ve had with friends, family members and unenthused seventh graders. As a teacher of American History on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I battled this historical apathy on a daily basis. “Social Studies,” as it’s called on the elementary level, was the most dreaded subject of the day. When the announcement, “Take out your social studies books,” left my mouth, students would audibly moan, suck their teeth, and sink their bodies so far under their desks that only a vast sea of foreheads remained. In my lectures I tried to find a way to trick my students into believing that history could be something as entertaining as their Sidekicks, last night’s America’s Got Talent, or the newest scary movie. I tried to turn history into a series of anecdotes as if Alexander Hamilton was just another kid from the projects who, in the course of forging our national economy, woke up, threw on his Catholic school uniform, went to the corner bodega, had a breakfast of Nestea and Doritos, and found himself sitting in a classroom being lectured about it.
They didn’t buy it.
I, on the other hand, am a history fiend. I can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Opinion: there cannot be a full appreciation of anyone or anything unless you know where they or it came from. I’m not happy unless I’m sitting in front of a mountain of books discovering why something is the way it is. For this I’ve spent most of my life being mocked with names like “loser” or “nerd” or “mad whack.” And you’re damn straight I want to know the history of the phrase “mad whack.” I just can’t seem to find one. On the other hand I’m a sucker for the present and spend many a day relishing what the future holds. Essentially, I’m a Buddhist’s nightmare.
But what about history? Long boring history. What really makes it so fascinating? Besides that fact that history is the ultimate form of storytelling, deep in the annals of it are legions of figures yet to be recognized. This person was undoubtedly a trailblazing outcast. Someone who, in the course of his or her life, made such an impression that he or she changed history without even knowing it. Someone who carried around a barrage of great stories or lofty quotations that no one ever got to hear because he or she royally pissed someone off. Thus he or she was practically written out of those social studies books that seventh graders dread?
That’s right Peter Stuyvesant; I’m looking at you.
Stay tuned for the next issue of PEG LEG PETE when the author's mom says he needs to get a life.