Saturday, July 13, 2013

Memories of high school history

I had three favourite teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 13. Yes, I went to high school in a place where they had Grade 13. We don't have it, anymore. I still hear people say we should have it, but I think that's a lot of hooey. Everywhere else in North America has only 12 grades before college or university. People erroneously say that Grade 13 was like first year university. Um, no.

Anyway, one of my favourite teachers ever was my Grade 13 history teacher, Mr. O'Hearn. He taught Canadian history, and he inspired a love of history in me of which I was previously unaware. And he knew about Canada. While I loved homeschooling, I can say that every kid deserves to have a teacher who knows their subject inside out and loves it. Mr. O'Hearn was that for me.

He taught us about something he called "Hartzian Theory." He claimed we would never find anything about it in books if we looked. I have only found a few references to Louis Hartz. He was American, and a political scientist, not a historian.  He focused on how North America was made up of "fragments" broken off from European countries. I'm not sure how Mr. O'Hearn developed his theme for the year based on that, but I've never looked into very closely. We his students all thought he came up with it on his own.

The theme for the year was why Canada developed as it did compared to the United States. Mr. O'Hearn taught us that the presence of the United Empire Loyalists here in Canada was crucial for the differences. The way the two "fragments" evolved historically hinged a lot on the American Revolution and the coming of the United Empire Loyalists. Now that I am an adult,  I wish I remembered more of what he taught us.

When I was poking about once, trying to find something out about "Hartzian Theory" I came across this extensive list of Differences Between Canada and the United States, which I found interesting. Hartz was listed there, but not with the kind of detail Mr. O'Hearn taught. I'm thinking he did, indeed, author the material he used, and I can see he drew from other theories, but began with Hartz's fragment ideas. We did learn a lot about immigration and its impact that year.

Another thing I learned from Mr. O'Hearn was the difference between a good answer and a bad answer. He loved to give us long tests that involved identifying and analyzing historical events.  For example, he would give us the event "The Articles of Capitulation," and we would have to identify it, and say why it was important. If we just blabbered on in the answer, without really providing any analysis, he would write in the margin, "Oh, really?" I learned what the difference was between analysis and information, although in my university studies of history, I wasn't always good at doing it. It was always the weakness I had to work on most.

He was an excellent teacher, and I'll never forget him. I left that school in 1982 over thirty years ago, and I still remember his teaching. May there be more teachers like him. I'm grateful I had him as a teacher.