Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Every day this month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
And hey, skepticism can be applied to the humanities, too! Today, schoolteacher Matt Gauvin looks at Honest History, a kids’ magazine that helps grade schoolers question what they think they know.
As someone who spends the better part of most days trying to capture the attention and interest of American youth, I understand what a struggle it can be. Especially if the topic is something the kids aren’t immediately familiar with. Issue 10 of the quarterly “adventure magazine for young historians,” Honest History, deals with the history and culture of India, and does a good job of serving as an introduction while still being engaging and entertaining.
The first thing that jumped out at me when reading through “A Portrait of India” was the artwork. Each of the 68 pages contains original artwork depicting the main points of the particular article. The simplistic style follows the overall tone of the magazine, using broad strokes to illuminate the history and culture of India, without getting too hung up on specifics.
The magazine is full of short articles that cover a wide range of topics. There are biographies of famous Indians, plus diagrams of the importance of water and the diversity of India’s various ecosystems . The articles on Bollywood and transportation show India as a modern nation that has been greatly influenced by its colonial past.
Speaking of, Honest History isn’t afraid to tackle some of the thornier issues of India’s past. The difficulties with both the British Raj and partition are presented in a fairly objective manner, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions, which at the end of the magazine readers are given space to do.
I went through “A Portrait of India” with my 7-year-old, who’s obsessed with history and falls within the target age group of 6-12, to gauge how kids respond to it (small sample size, I know). He seemed to find the articles interesting, particularly the short biographies and the article on the ancient origins of chess.
One thing I really liked from the perspective of a teacher was the focus on building vocabulary and introducing unfamiliar concepts such as imperialism right at the beginning of the magazine. It helped set the stage for what was going to be contained within. My son enjoyed the games, too, and the reflection at the end really helped crystalize his understanding of some of the topics.
The writing in the “Portrait of India” issue of Honest History seemed a little bit advanced for its intended audience. I tested the Flesch-Kincaid grade level of one passage and found it had a grade level of 10, which is pretty high for a magazine geared toward elementary school kids. Most Harry Potter books, for comparison, have grade levels of 8.
The writing wasn’t uniformly difficult, with some articles being easier to read than others, but as a whole I think this magazine is best read with an adult, and not entirely independently. The reading difficulty will push some kids to improve, but a little adult support will ensure that everyone can enjoy “A Portrait of India.”
Overall, I was impressed with Honest History. It had great content in a package that was pleasing to look at, and games and activities that most kids would enjoy. Simply getting kids to think about the world around them can be an arduous task, but Honest History makes a solid attempt to broaden horizons.
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