Introduction: This poem is perfect for middle through high school
age students. The juxtaposition of the historic images with the common ones will intrigue the students.
The History Teacher
By Billy Collins
Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters
And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.
The Spanish Inquistion was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"
The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,
while he gathered his notes and walked home
past flowers beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
Read the poem to the class then break them into groups assigning one paragraph per group.
Have them create conflicting displays with a media of their choice
showing the two sides of each period in history. For example, the Ice Age shown painted on a poster with a corresponding
poster showing people wearing sweaters because they were chilly.
When finished have the groups present their art in the correct sequence of the poem, reading it as they
present. When the poem is finished discuss the seriousness of watering down history. Ask them why they thought the students
in the poem tormented others at recess and why the professor created his own version of history.
If applicable to the class, discuss times in history when fighting occurred because a leader had changed
history to suit his particular agenda, for example--Adolf Hitler.