Even today, the shadow of World War II remains visible. On one level, the war generated images that became embedded in popular culture. And on another level, the war generated memorials to never forget the great sacrifice. Memorials to the dead are still being erected more than 70 years after the end of the war. One reason I am interested in World War II is the way it impacted the individual, ordinary stories that help bring the World War II period to life.
For the past two years I have started my U.S. history classes with a brief unit on monuments and memorials. They serve not only as tangible reminders of the past, but also in the case of those monuments and memorials erected today, tell us something about our particular time and place in history in relation to those past events.
Just as monuments and memorials tell a story for my students, the personal, individual stories have had the power to transform my classroom. In teaching World War II I try to start each class with a story. It could be a personal experience, myth, historical event, or anything else that relates to the day's lesson. The stories grab students' attention. They become interested in not only what the story is about, but how the story relates to them. Stories touch the core of who they are, and that inner sense which makes them human. I want my students to realize that stories we learn and remember usually stick with us because, on some level, we can relate to them personally. If I use stories in my teaching, it gives my students a better opportunity to connect to a more personal kind of learning.