TEACHERS OF HISTORY and writing speak of the ever-hovering problem of finding ways to make their subjects "come alive." Students who are easily bored or frustrated by wht they mistakenly see as the deadness of the past or the lifelessness of language pass through the schools unmoved by what could be intellectually exciting. In Barnesboro, Pa., one group of teachers has found what appears to be a commendable solution: rousing the students of Northern Cambria High School to research the history of their area and write of it in essays, short stories and poems. the result is "Mining Folk," a 191-page book that is an instructive and at times moving portrayal of life in the times of the students' parents and grandparents.
Although the effort of the Barnesboro students is exceptional in that a book came out of the project (backed by $1,000 from the local school board and $500 from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts), this interest in local heritage is part of a national trend. The subject has been taught before, but the evidence suggests that a measure of new enthusiasm is present. According to John Merrow, co-producer of the public-radio program "Options In Education," "many schools across the country are engaging students in the history of their own area. This kind of writing is one of the good things that's happening in education."
As can be imagined, the students at Northern Cambria High School did indeed "come alive" once they began researching the vibrancy of their own community. At times, it meant examining their own kitchens. Paul Dolansky, a junior, writes taht "in Northern Cambria Coal Country, about half of the children still have bread baked regularly in their homes; about half of our mothers still have a baking day. This explains why some people here are displeased about the use of the word 'bread' as the name of a rock group and as a slang word for money. Bread is a necessity to everyone; for many generations bread kept our people going. Without bread we didn't have a meal; often it was the entire meal. For us, bread is a special word for a sacred food. In Coal Country, we respect bread and are truly thankful for it."
We don't know the IQ scores of the students of Nothern Cambria nor their college board results. But from reading "Mining Folk," we have a feeling that whatever they learned this year about their local culture and heritage will remain with them for a long time. That the students have chosen to share it with others, by means of their book, can serve as an example for other faculties wondering about ways to liven up their history and writing classes. Start local is the message from Barnesboro.