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History On Fire: Teaching Like We Mean It

Posted 46 months ago|2 comments|1,187 views
Rome Will Kick Your Butt™
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Written by
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
(Summary: All that today's young people know about History is that it's dull. They are hungry for something with a lot more firepower. A lively, theatrical series about Ancient Rome will captivate modern audiences and show them how History should be taught.)

"Rome Will Kick Your Butt™" is a television series proposal, submitted to History Channel, Discovery Channel, A&E, Learning Channel, Disney, et al, by Word-Wise Productions.

Marketing context: American public education has been dumbed down, neutered, rendered dull and boring. Little is taught. One thing especially is not taught. History. There is thus an unfed hunger for History real, raw, and revelatory.

Everything that makes children and adults love History has been eliminated from History. Starting in the 1920s, progressive educators used a gimmick called Social Studies to constrict the teaching of History. Less was taught, and taught in a less interesting way. Throughout the 20th century History was made more politically correct, more timid, bloodless, and unfocused, more a vehicle for social engineering, more wimpy. Soon History had all the intellectual excitement of an infomercial for a new vegetable slicer.

At this point, we all need to be reminded of what History was always about for many thousands of years: Quests. Victories. Defeats. Excellence. Death. Egos. Genius. Battles. Greatness. Insanity. Business. Law. Art. Family. Government. Luck. Military campaigns. Heroes. Disease. Monuments. Crime. Tragedies. Plots. Romance. Religion. Engineering feats. Politics. Duty. Sacrifice. Honor. Human behavior both ordinary and under pressure. Great personalities. Inventions. Glory. Philosophy.

We all delight in extremes and superlatives. We love a great story. History is millions of good stories. The Roman Empire, with 10 centuries of history, has a million stories all its own.

"Rome Will Kick Your Butt," the series, focuses in each episode on a particularly entertaining matrix of events. Boffo material is endless. Insane emperors. Hannibal's elephants. Hadrian's Wall. Caesar in Gaul. Building the aqueducts. Naval battles in the Mediterranean. Naval battles in the Coliseum. The revolt of Spartacus. Feats of engineering. Roman slaves. Roman sex. Roman politicians. Hadrian building a palace with 1000 rooms. Intrigue. Vesuvius. Cleopatra screwing up the empire. Crassus (see graphic) with so much money he could buy into global politics. The telling of every story, big or small, is lush and lively, with as much vivid incident and texture crammed in as possible.

"Rome Will Kick Your Butt" never feels like a history lesson; rather it feels like a rich man's tour of Parisian bordellos and five-star restaurants. Intimate, lush, passionate, a little drunk. Academic accuracy is a must, but the first passion is capturing the vigor and extremes of Roman personality and culture. A raunchy pagan society without today's concerns for correct sexual behavior. Life was cheaper. Christians were fed to the lions. Cities leveled. Sensuous music, the narrator's dramatic voice, war drums, orgiastic screams, the sharp light we see on Greek islands--everything combines to make the audience feel they have plunged into a surreal, drugged or science-fictional universe. There's no shock for shock's sake. The truth is shock enough. "Gladiator" often captures this feeling. "Aquirre, the Wrath of God," its insane intensity, is that feeling. (As for structure, "Seinfeld" intertwines several stories at once, the model for "Rome Will Kick Your Butt.")

Too often people forget that all those crumbling Roman ruins and gray stones were, in their prime, gaudy almost beyond our prim belief. Everything painted and decorated like courtesans. Flags and pennants waved on every breeze. Rich people could shamelessly indulge in flamboyance, trying to outdo each other with bigger palaces and more lavish banquets.

Younger Americans will be entranced at finding that History can be an intoxicating subject. Our culture does not pay hommage to its great achievements. Excess is almost a dead category for us. That the Romans did so much that was epic and colossal will stun many viewers.

In addition to making money, "Rome Will Kick Your Butt" can provide an extraordinary service to our society by showing the dull minds in charge of education how things should be done. As a result, children will demand to be told a similarly vigorous history of their own extraordinary country.

Given how little History most Americans know, each episode of "Rome Will Kick Your Butt" begins with a 60-second mini-documentary of the Roman Empire, starting with the first tribes in Italy around 600 B.C. Hot imperial purple spreads across a relief map of the Mediterranean world; exploding stars indicate major events up to about 400 AD. Then zoom to a part of the map, VO gushing excitedly, "...and Brutus, the famed military genius, and his wife Julia just had their third child as the German tribes descended from the north. The future didn't look good in the spring of 115 AD, in the Roman province called Tulbania..."

Subsequent episodes are not sequential or connected (this ain't school, remember; this is Frenzy in Firenze; book, magazine and website can provide coherence). Stories are selected entirely for their theatrical firepower. It's helpful and good PR to promote a competition among experts in history, classics, archaeology and other fields to suggest their list of most fabulous stories. When stories are selected, the experts can be hired as fact-checkers.

Hollywood has made more than 50 movies set in ancient Rome. The great existing footage is used however possible (cannibalize, digitally equalize). "Rome Will Kick Your Butt" will tease all these properties and make them more valuable, so the studios owning the movies will want to push this project. Stars are invited to play cameo roles when they look like the Roman in the episode. George C. Scott as Crassus would be a major event.

(If people mistakenly think that Rome refers to the Catholic Church, that is quite all right. They can come to the party and learn something new. One Rome led to the other Rome.)

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For a tribute to televison's contribution to education, see "The Best Public School is Television" ( www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/... )

For an essay on how to improve the teaching of history, please see "26: How To Teach History, Etc." on Improve-Education.org.)

© Bruce Deitrick Price 2010 Protecrite


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COMMENTS
Altruist
Altruist
Eugene, OR
46 months ago: It does sound like a good program.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the interest of students because they competing with TV and video games and a lot more. Exceptional teachers also have to be entertainers.
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
46 months ago: Any praise from Altruist is praise indeed.

Siegfried Engelmann (a great educator) made a point I love. If kids aren't learning, it's not their fault. Nor is it usually the fault of their teachers. It's the fault of the programs and methods chosen by the school.

If courses are properly designed, kids will learn.

That's my main point in this TV proposal. If schools sincerely want kids to be educated, then the school will find exciting, dramatic, memorable methods that are actually designed to teach knowledge, as opposed to manipulating kids for ideological reasons.

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