Why no local history?

I recently took a road trip with my grandson. During the four days on the road we had lots of discussions and one important thing became obvious to me, while he is extremely knowledgeable he is relatively ignorant about local history.

MHS campus, 1958
MHS campus, 1958

For example, he enjoys thing military and has a Jeep he’s been bringing back to life. We got to discussing the history of Jeeps and I told him about the connection of the vehicle’s design to the Bantam Company. That brought up a discussion of the Bantam once commonly seen on the streets of Greenfield and owned by Kib Roberts. That somehow evolved into the C.R. Patterson Company and Greenfield at one time having an automobile manufacturer and the significance of it being the only example of an African-American car company.

His eyes kind of lit up hearing all this and it got me thinking that our school system is failing our community in not making students more aware of our collective history. As a former history teacher I too share in this failure. While I did weave local history into my lessons it was more of a haphazard thing than a structured unit of study.

For years I required my junior level history students to read John Hershey’s book, Hiroshima and I read excerpts from several other books such as Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle. Looking back I regret not doing a unit on local history and maybe require the reading of F.R. Harris’s, Greene Countrie Towne.

While I can’t go back and undo my error I can strongly suggest the Greenfield Board of Education find an appropriate slot in the curriculum to include a one or two-week in-depth study of our community’s history. It certainly has the potential to improve perceptions today’s children have of their old hometown.

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