Not long ago, I had the unpleasant experience of observing students study — if study is the word — for their U.S. history finals at Newport High School, where I teach English, journalism, photography, and creative writing.
The great cram was on. Cramming to vomit names, dates, wars, acronyms, and received myths on a multiple choice test.
A month later, students wouldn't remember any of it. No, make that a week. But they would remember hating history.
How depressing. How typical. As a history major in college and a former history teacher, I know the subject doesn't have to end up being taught as something rote. In fact, it shouldn't end up that way, especially modern Oregon history, an unprecedented era boasting some of the most far out stories imaginable. Stories, I might add, that most Oregon public school students will never learn because they're not part of the official history standards established by the Oregon Department of Education.
Thankfully, some teachers and organizations strive to rescue the study of history from monotonous canned lectures, stultifying tests, and irrelevant five paragraph essays cribbed from Wikipedia.
Portland's Dill Pickle Club is one such organization doing some serious rescuing with their recent publication of Oregon History Comics. This handsome little boxed set of 10 comics is one of the more engaging and fun pieces of Oregon history related media I've encountered in a long, long time. If only every middle and public school social studies teacher in Oregon had a class set for students to read. I used mine to great success, and I don't even officially teach Oregon history, although I've come to realize that's what I really do in clandestine fashion with most of my nonfiction writing and journalism assignments.
According to its web site, "The Dill Pickle Club is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that organizes educational projects that help us understand the place in which we live. Through tours, public programs and publications, we create nontraditional and interactive learning environments where all forms of knowledge are valued and made readily accessible. Founded in 2009, we are a volunteer-driven organization, with a shared belief in the vitality of community education and democracy."
(For a complete list of all the Dill Pickle Club's cool history related projects, go to dillpickleclub.org)
Oregon History Comics: Illustrated Stories from Oregon's Little-Known Past features 10 4.5" by 5.5" comics. All of the comics were written by Sarah Mirk and illustrated by the following artists:
Faces of Lone Fir Cemetery — Sarah Mirk
Life and Death of the X-Ray Cafe — John Isaacson
Dead Freeways — Don Barkhouse
Portland's Black Panthers — Khris Soden
The Streets of Chinatown — Harry Lau
Voices of Celilo Falls — T. Edward Bak
The Vanport Flood — Nicole Georges
The Lives of Loggers — BT Livermore
Votes for Women — Suzette Smith
Oregon Bikes — Shawn Granton
I can't say I have a favorite. All were interesting, informative, and wonderfully rendered. I loved the inclusion of source material for further research. My hope is that The Dill Pickle Club publishes another set soon and maybe even ties some of the volumes into the state history standards. The kids would love it, and I see a great final project instead of a boring final test. Make your own Oregon history comics, make them reproducible, and start sharing them with other students and teachers.
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Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Love and the Green Lady: Meditations on the Yaquina Bay Bridge: Oregon's Crown Jewel of Socialism