Back in the days when I taught, working hard to motivate junior high school students to get interested in (dare I say excited about?) history, I found a proven tool to achieve that often illusive goal. I started scheduling a once-a-week activity that had many of the students rushing into class clamoring to get started and, once the planned activity was finished, clamoring for more.
It really had little, if anything, to do with me and my admittedly limited teaching abilities but everything to do with the tool I employed.
At the start of class every Friday, I began reading a selection from radio commentator Paul Harvey's book The Rest of the Story.
Only people of a certain age now remember Paul Harvey and his radio programs. On April 1, 1951, ABC Radio debuted Harvey's daily noon program Paul Harvey News and Comment. On May 10, 1976, the network began airing a separate afternoon program by Harvey called The Rest of the Story. Both programs aired into the twenty-first century in spite of Harvey's damaged vocal cords, which necessitated the use of several substitute hosts. Harvey's declining health forced an end to his personal hosting in April 2008, and he died the following year.
During the years 1951 to 2008, several generations of listeners became familiar with Harvey's distinctive, well-modulated, and well-paced voice and pregnant pauses as he shared the news, his opinions, and surprise-ending stories from history. Two long-remembered and oft-imitated phrases with which he ended his programs were "Paul Harvey--good day," with which he ended each broadcast of Paul Harvey's News and Comment, and "And now you know--the rest of the story," which concluded his other broadcast.
I was such a fan of Harvey's that when I learned of his books, I bought and read them all: The Rest of the Story, More of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, and Destiny. That's when it suddenly hit me that maybe my students would enjoy the suspense of his stories from history, too. More importantly, maybe they would be the catalyst that would turn some of them on to history.
The first Friday I used The Rest of the Story, most of the students were duly amused and entertained by Harvey's surprise ending. But it isn't "cool" for junior high kids to admit that they actually enjoy something academic. And not many of them will admit that they like being read to like little kids. So I wrote it off as another of my well-intentioned efforts that had flopped, and I wouldn't use it again--or at least not very often.
The next Friday, a student entered my class and asked, "When are you going to read some more from that book? I really liked it."
Several other students who had entered the room echoed his sentiment.
Surprised and not a little suspicious, I hedged. "Well, maybe some day when we finish class early." (I rarely finished early.) I made no promises. Having two or three junior high boys ask for something isn't exactly a groundswell of popular demand.
But when I started the class, several other students interrupted, asking, "Aren't you reading from Paul Harvey today?" Boys and girls alike responded with looks of dismay and comments of disappointment when I replied in the negative.
So, by popular demand, Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story returned to my lesson plans as a regular Friday feature, and they continued until I'd exhausted the stories. Long before I reached the last chapter, however, students had begun asking me to read "just one more!" They wanted to hear not just one story but multiple. I suspect that some of those requests were made by unprepared students hoping to postpone their quiz, but most came from genuine growing interest. The students were learning that history is much more than dry, irrelevant names, dates, battles, and acts of Congress. History holds exciting stories of mystery, intrigue, surprise, and the overcoming of great obstacles--just like life.
I've mentioned all that because that experience was brought to mind by the posts of an online friend and fellow writer, G.P., whose blog is titled Pacific Paratrooper. He recently ran a series of posts detailing several (ends up they were just a few of many) surrenders by Japanese forces in the closing days of World War II.
Most people, including many World War II buffs, assume that the surrender ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945, ended it all--except for the few isolated stragglers who years later stumbled from the jungle to learn that the war had long been over and therefore surrendered. Pacific Paratrooper quickly dispels that notion. Like Paul Harvey, he tells "the rest of the story."
And all of history is like that. Historians don't know, can't know, everything about any single event, let alone an entire era. More is always being uncovered. Of what historians do know, there is so much that they must make decisions about, including both what to include in and what to exclude from their narratives. And what they leave unsaid becomes grist for the writer mill. There's always more to tell. There's always a "rest of the story." Job security for the writer of history!
If you're interested in World War II, especially events in the Pacific Theater, visit Pacific Paratrooper at https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com and read the rest of that story. Better yet, broaden your historical horizons and track down Paul Harvey's books. Maybe you, like my junior high students, will be surprised at how fun learning history can be.
Still better yet, use The Rest of the Story to begin writing your own narrative and thereby sharing the stories of history!