Breathing life into NW history

Absent history, civics, like citizenship, becomes an abstraction. Breathing life into teaching history — making it relevant and fun for elementary and high school students — is the best way to invigorate future engagement in community and public life.

A curriculum that emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is well and good, aligning with higher ed degree programs and employment gaps. But if it’s at the expense of history and the humanities, Washington will be a much poorer place.

A STEM-centric Everett High student who goes on to earn her mechanical engineering degree at the UW and work at Boeing, benefits from understanding Washington’s civic and cultural history. She’ll be more likely to vote, run for city council, and even lecture her co-workers on the grave lessons of the 1948 Boeing strike.

Pundits wring their hands at American students’ poor historical proficiency, and it usually coincides with the issuing of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. There have been incremental improvements for history, with results higher in 2010 than in 1994. Scores also have improved since 2006 for 8th graders, but not 4th and 12th graders. Still, it’s disheartening when high schoolers look thunderstruck when asked about the Bill of Rights, let alone local history such as the Everett Massacre or Japanese-American internment during WWII.

There are remedies. Twenty-five years ago, Washington enlisted hundreds of 10-year olds to serves as keepers of the state’s Centennial Time Capsule. The capsule sits in a 3,000-pound green safe at the south entrance of the Capitol and contains 16 individual stainless steel vessels that will be filled with new artifacts every 25 years. All of the capsules will be opened in 2389, Washington’s 500th anniversary.

The 1989 Capsule Keepers are now recruiting the next generation of 10-year olds to take over when Washington observes its 125th anniversary in November.

“Our state’s 125th anniversary is a special event, and a big part of it is opening the Centennial Time Capsule vault and filling the 2014 time capsule,” Secretary of State Kim Wyman said. “We’re looking for kids who will turn 10 years old around November 11 to serve as our next generation of Capsule Keepers.”

Here is something relevant and engaging. Parents or guardians must complete a registration form and return it by Oct. 21. Information is available at www.capsulekeepers.org

Civic amnesia flows from historic amnesia. Washington’s young Capsule Keepers are one antidote.

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