The Men Who Built America

As a kid in primary school, I didn’t really care too much about history.  History was barely focused on, as everyone focused more on math, reading and writing. It was sort of an extra portion for literature. Why do I say that? Because a large portion of what was taught ended up being fiction (who was the first people to discover America? Not Columbus, much to my surprise. Paul Revere did not say “The British are coming” – he never even finished the ride. John Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first president of the United States.)

In middle school, many of the fallacies I had learned in primary were either corrected or reinforced. I found some of it absolutely fascinating. As it progressed, sixth grade through eighth grade, history classes became more interesting.

My absolutely favorite year for history was ninth grade in high school. I took history in later years as well, but my ninth grade teacher was absolutely brilliant. One time we found the whole class gathered outside the door when the bell rang. Inside the darkened classroom we could barely make out the strange positioning of the desks. We could here gunshots going off inside the room. The teacher came to the door, opened it up just enough for one person to get through, put his arm out at desk height, and told us to get in and stay down. While the other students looked on confused, I swung my backpack, filled with all my very large books for all of my classes, due to the fact my locker was on the other side of school, to my front, and dove in. We were reenacting WWII, crawling through the trenches. They’ve released the mustard gas! We pulled our shirts up to cover our mouths and noses to simulate gas masks. We crawled in on our hands and knees through the makeshift trenches, head down, half smothered under our hands and shirts, in the din and gloom of our classroom. History was rarely so exciting.

But there had been times, in years previous and years after, when classes could also be interesting. There were projects, simulations, parties – if you had the luck to get a teacher who was truly interested and involved in history class, history became alive for you. I was lucky enough to get such teachers.

Some of my favorite lessons in high school were about Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Edison, Nobel, Ford, and essentially all the big names from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Before the civil war, history seemed to move slowly. Afterwards, people seemed to trip over their own feet in the pursuit of Progress.

The History channel, in the fall of 2012, made an eight-hour, four-part miniseries focusing on these very people, on the big names of that favorite era of mine, called The Men Who Built America. Full of drama, intrigue, power struggles, back room deals, invention, innovation, civil unrest and more, people interested in learning about that part of history that pushed America to the place it is today (okay, so the recent decades weren’t that great, but we’re still a major power, right?) Tonight, coming home from work quite exhausted, I was delighted to see it was on again. Naturally I had to sit down and watch.

For people who home school, as I did in my last years of high school – a decision arrived at due to my increased, and frankly debilitating, migraines – history can sometimes be almost boring. For people in school, if your teachers weren’t at a level that knew how to make history exciting, trying to learn history could be more of a chore. I find that to be a shame. One should be able to love learning about history. Shows like The Men Who Built America, fact-based, full of drama, guaranteed to keep your attention, are a wonderful supplement to that part of one’s education.

If you are planning on or know someone who is homeschooling, need help learning history for your own betterment, or need a refresher to help your kids with that part of their education, consider looking into The Men Who Built America. At the very least, you will be entertained.

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~ by cerridwyn eldritch on July 4, 2013.

3 Responses to “The Men Who Built America”

  1. Interesting post, and yeah, I remember that documentary. There was just one thing that felt missing from it, a bit of a mirror. It was well researched, and it did not shun painting a picture which at various times during the events of the documentary would certainly not have been able to engage like this.

    But as I said, that mirror was missing. History is an instrument, of social structuring as well as cultural development. In that sense we could learn a thing or two by also having a look at Oliver Stone’s unsettling but enlightening documentary “Untold History of the United States” – which I am said to say was one I only encountered here in Europe.

    Took me quite a while to do my own research. In the end it struck me that both the History Channel and Mr. Stone were right on the mark. Just each on their respective pressure points.

    Still, as I know now, the one does not go without the other. The men who built America, are those who shaped it positively and negatively. Something which especially in the past two decades has become more important than ever to keep in mind.

    The irony, history is never boring. We just don’t realise it is always current. Teaching that, it is indeed an art. Some teachers can bring that to the table, others can’t. If you’re homeschooling, it is more important than ever to provide as many perspectives as possible.

    • Thank you for your comment. I’m glad I checked my email to see about my student loan payments – just starting! – or I may never have noticed I had any reviewers. I’m glad you took the time to so thoughtfully and articulately respond to my post. (I really should check my email more often.)

      I had only heard of “Untold History of the United States” perhaps twice in passing, and have not yet had the chance to see it (I don’t get Showtime), so I cannot make an accurate assessment of it. As I understand, it covers the later years of America from WWII to now, and would likely also be an excellent supplement to teaching history. I did not recommend “The Men Who Shaped America” as anything more than a teaching tool – something to help engage the student’s mind, while each teacher is responsible for using it responsibly while both helping the students create their own mirror and learn to research properly. Some of the best teachers I had absolutely despised the “one correct answer” method of teaching – they were there to teach you to think, dagnabit, and you’d better be able to prove you have a brain in your skull. I would expect that anyone who would use it as a teaching tool, rather than as someone who wants to learn from it on their own, would bring in current events into play. It is not always necessary for a show about history to provide the mirror, particularly as eventually our current events will be relegated to yet another footnote in history, and I would rather the whole of the show always be relevant, rather than to leave future generations of viewers scratching their heads and wondering what the narrator is talking about. If you are an adult, finding the mirror should be up to you, the viewer. If you are the teacher, it is your job to help the student find his or her own mirror.

      Thank you again for your feedback, and please do write again soon.

  2. […] night I posted about The Men Who Built America. Like I said, it was about a specific era of American history, […]

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