Did you hear the one about the British guy who got an award from Daughters of the American Revolution for teaching American history?
“The irony is not lost on me,” said James Owen, who teaches history of the Americas at Westlake Academy.
Next month, Owen will travel to San Antonio where he will receive an award as the most Outstanding American History Teacher of 2018 for the state of Texas from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
He sees his nationality as a strength in teaching the subject.
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“It helps being British,” Owen said. “As an outsider, I can get them to challenge some of the assumptions they have about American history.”
After receiving a doctorate in modern British history from Cambridge University in England, Owen came to the United States several years ago to teach history at a liberal arts college in North Carolina.
His interactions with American students and culture stoked his fascination in American history, he said.
When he compared the slow evolution of British history with the sudden establishment of the United States, he marveled at the founding fathers.
“They were building a country from the ground up,” he said. “The founding fathers were starting from scratch.”
Now he helps his students learn critical thinking strategies about American history, which sparks their interest in the subject.
“I never thought I would have so much fun learning about U.S. History from a British guy,” said Shelley Suttles, a junior.
Owen encourages them to look at history from the perspectives of voices that aren’t traditionally heard. For instance, looking at the industrial revolution from the viewpoint of a small group of workers.
He asks them to look at a wide range of primary sources, not just a single textbook, and develop their own opinions.
Junior Sophia Cariño said, “He makes us feel like real historians.”
Lessons are very interactive and he wants students to critically think about various aspects of history, she said.
Owen said that’s his goal for his students: “to be their own historians.”
He also wants them to see the link between history and contemporary society. For instance, while some may say this is the most partisan American society ever, Owen will point his students to the debates of the 1790s.
He often takes to Twitter and tweets news stories for his students to read, so they can look for patterns.
“History is an analytical tool to help them understand the modern world,” he said.