Teaching world history: from StudentsFriend.com

Mike in Vietnam near the Laotian border, 1968

I didn't have a clue what a kid from Ohio was doing on the other side of the world, living in a hole in the ground, and carrying a fully automatic weapon.  That's when I started reading history.

History was powerful; it removed the scales from my eyes.

Why I developed this website

My working career began in broadcast news when I was fifteen. A series of reports I prepared about the United Way organization won an Ohio Associated Press award for investigative reporting in 1972 when I was twenty-three. That was the year I left broadcasting because I felt a need for deeper engagement in my work; I wanted to be a participant rather than an observer. The search for meaning in my life and work took twists and turns and eventually led to a teaching job in a small working-class community in southwestern Colorado.

As a new teacher of world history and geography, my first priority was to find an alternative to the boring textbooks I remembered from my own days in school. My daughter's third grade history textbook wasn't any better, and the texts I relied upon as a student teacher convinced me that history textbooks are poor teaching tools. They are too loaded with facts to permit a coherent overview of history, and they are too superficial to allow for in-depth examination of specific historical developments. As a rookie, the only thing I knew about teaching was that I wasn't going to rely on a textbook.

Consequently, I set out to write my own historical narrative, one that would succinctly describe what I felt to be the truly important developments in world history and tie them to geography in a way that would make both subjects more meaningful. I wanted to help students gain a sense of their place in the stream of time without getting bogged-down in an endless recitation of quickly forgotten factoids. I read a number of general histories, countless articles in magazines, encyclopedias, and textbooks, and I listened to hundreds of recorded college lectures. Over a period of several years, I wrote and rewrote my alternative to the textbook, and it remains a work in progress. In the classroom it came to be called "The Student's Friend." It's been a lot of work, but it's also been a source of endless fascination as I endeavor to drill down to the essential insights that make historical events meaningful.

I started this website as a way to share The Student's Friend with other teachers who might have use for a concise world history narrative, but who were not brash enough to undertake such a project themselves. I hoped to assist teachers with this gift of my labor, and I hoped they would help me refine it. A small grant from the US Department of Education's "Star Schools" program provided an opportunity to learn something about website design, and it helped with expenses.

But my textbook alternative wasn't sufficient by itself. The website needed to discuss how to use The Student's Friend and how to supplement it with other teaching activities. The website began to grow into a "guide" for teachers of world history and geography that would explore why we teach these subjects, what should be taught and how to teach it.  Since I didn't know the answers to these questions myself, I began to examine the literature. I became an investigative reporter again, trying to compile and understand the best thinking in the field of history education and report it to an audience of teachers. I didn't know if such an audience would exist, but you are proof that it does. Yours is one of hundreds of thousands of visits to the Student's Friend website since it went online in July of 2001.

Acknowledgement and disclaimer:

This website represents the efforts of one working school teacher to make sense of his complex, challenging, and fascinating profession by drawing on the insights of other educators and researchers through their writings and through their direct contributions to this website. Because the light from these sources is filtered through the lens of a single sensibility, the view offered here entails the strengths and shortcomings of a single vision. The strengths owe much to others; the shortcomings are mine alone.

-Mike Maxwell, Christmas, 2001

last revision June, 2016

Please excuse the advertising; it helps pay the bills.

© 2001-2016 Michael G. Maxwell, Maxwell Learning LLC

About Student's Friend

Student's Friend was the first comprehensive guide to world history teaching on the Internet, and teachers continue to find it an essential resource that includes a concise narrative of world history that may be used in place of a standard textbook. Among other endorsements, Student's Friend has been cited by the Library of Congress as a "as a rich site with articles, lessons, and other teaching aids," and it has been recognized as one of the top ten history sites for teachers by the Stanford University School of Education. More comments.

Website developer: Mike Maxwell

As I advised my students, "Consider the source." To help you judge the credibility of this website, you might wish to know something about the person behind it. I was born in Columbus, Ohio, served with the US army in Vietnam, and moved to Colorado in the early 1970s. I was employed in several white and blue collar occupations before entering the field of education at the age of 46. I taught world history and geography at Mancos High School in southwestern Colorado for a dozen years, and I 've been operating the Student's Friend website since 2001.  I hold a BA in history and an MPA from the Graduate School of Public Affairs, both from the University of Colorado. Teaching history has been the most complex, demanding, and challenging job I've held.

Mike Maxwell