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Connecting the Past to the Present

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Upper School humanities educator Colin Dalton shares his passion for history and how it shapes our world today.

When he was in the fourth grade, Upper School humanities educator Colin Dalton’s favorite thing to do was read history books. Not for class or for homework, just for fun. His dad’s love of history meant a variety of books were accessible—school textbooks from when his dad was a child, atlases, encyclopedias and other books on American and ancient history. 

In high school, some of his history teachers didn’t match Mr. Dalton’s enthusiasm and the material came across as inauthentic. He found himself bored in his favorite subject. Mr. Dalton decided he would become a teacher because he never wanted to see other people lose interest in a subject that he, himself, was passionate about.

In the internet age today, where descriptions and dates of historical events are a quick Google search away, it’s still important to study ancient civilizations.

“I think memorizing facts is a more traditional focus for the study of history,” shares Mr. Dalton. “I want students to see history in the context of its impact on the present and to draw connections between what is and what was. People weren’t that much different 2,000 years ago. When students discover these similarities and chains of progression, they learn why things are the way they are now.”

Ninth graders discover this first-hand in the World Cultures and Contemporary Problems class. At the end of the year, each student writes a research paper on an important historic issue like poverty, educational inequities, famine, class division, etc., and then presents it to the class. Students can choose a current global issue they are concerned about, as long as it has a connection to San Diego. They start their research with how the issue is having a local impact and then trace it back through global history searching for trends and its origin.

“The students look at both the history of these issues and how they have shaped the world today,” explains Mr. Dalton. “For example, history shows that only certain people were allowed to be educated in Sparta in 500 B.C., and similar educational inequities persist today. Students get excited when they see how the concepts that we learned early in the year can be applied to the research they do at the end of the year.”

For that project, in addition to the research, Mr. Dalton emphasizes the importance of strong writing, including supporting one’s argument and citing sources. “I believe writing and being able to articulate thoughts and construct an argument are significant skills regardless of the professions students choose,” he shares. “You can say whatever you want, but people aren’t going to believe you unless you are credible and present a compelling argument.”

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