The Number One Challenge of Adult History Students

I remember as a young adult and engineering graduate that I felt dissatisfied with my understanding of the world, and I wanted to explore the humanities independently.

I had gone into engineering, because the humanities as I experienced them in high school were “wishy-washy.”  Literature was subjective.  Religion (I went to a Catholic school) was disconnected from modern reality.  History, if anything, was worse.

As an adult who had forsaken the humanities, however, I found that defining an effective way to learn those subjects independently was exceedingly difficult.

My first forays into reading modern philosophy were very frustrating, and when I went searching for the reasons why modern philosophy had become the way it is, I became interested in history.

But penetrating that subject seemed even more daunting.  It was simply too large.  Where to begin?

This, I soon learned, was what other adult learners were wondering too.

I remember distinctly hearing an adult seminar student ask a college professor,  “How can I get started learning history for myself?


History is an unmanageable plethora, if you don’t approach it the right way.

I (and the questioner, no doubt) was disappointed to find no answer.  It simply did not occur to an expert that there was such an issue as a place to start, let alone an order to learn things in.

Of course, there were survey courses in the “History of Civilization” for college freshmen.

I took one.

What a demoralizing waste of time!

The course was such a superficial and disjointed treatment of an overwhelming flow of information, jumping from country to country and period to period, that nothing stuck at all.  I couldn’t put the parts together into a “big picture,” and without an overall framework, I couldn’t make sense of the details—-let alone be bothered to remember them.

I persevered.  I studied history for years.  There didn’t seem to be another way.

I walked away from my history degree with a well-stocked bookshelf and a few disparate segments of knowledge.

And then I started teaching at a private school in southern California.

Did I ever have learn history then, and fast!

The school did not have an established curriculum, which was a good thing in that I would not be asked to regurgitate the same boring things I had been taught as a child. On the other hand: I had to create it.

It’s been thirteen years since that baptism of fire. The journey I have undertaken has taught me just how urgent a problem the degradation of history education is.  But I have found a solution.

I will be presenting it in Be Your Own Historian.

This will be the Powell History course that teaches you how to be a self-starter and independent life-long learner of history.

To keep up to date, follow the A First History for Adults facebook page, and/or join the Powell History mailing list. Registration opens soon!

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