As you may know, in addition to singing and songwriter-ing, I work as the Manager of the Clark Chateau in Uptown Butte, Montana, and I'm currently running a summer internship program there for nine local teens, ages 15 to 18. We're three weeks in, and it's been an amazing experience so far. It's a very diverse group of personalities and talents, and it's been a fun challenge putting on the facade of being an adult. Every week the group meets for a day chock-full of workshops, where we discuss how history and society can be examined through the fine arts (and more): so far, we've done theatre and playwriting, mythology and folklore, film and screenwriting, and next week they'll be looking at dance and photography.
What is wonderful for me is seeing that, before being selected for our program at the Chateau, our interns have already been making waves in this town. They've been approaching history through alternative lenses for a while, and as an educator, this is incredibly exciting to see.
MacKenzie Coe and Tori Turner are both rising sophomores at Butte High, and for their final History class projects this year, they created their own films, with the theme “My Footsteps Through History.” Their videos are personal, heart-felt, thorough, and (I write proudly and excitedly) historically accurate. They demonstrate exactly what makes history so powerful and so important: its ability to reach out across generations and tap into a young person’s mind and soul, making them think and feel and learn. This assignment wasn’t a chronological approach to Butte’s history; rather, it encourages a thematic approach, nearly unheard of in our country’s public school system.
The History teacher behind this assignment, Chris Fisk, is a genuine treasure in our town: his methods are innovative and challenging, he treats his students with respect and often admiration, and his belief about history is that it is a constant presence in our lives, not a distant past (a “foreign country” as David Lowenthal would call it). He directs the Butte High History Club, which is basically an institution here, and leads his students on trips that encourage personal connections with Butte’s often under-explored history. He doesn’t limit the discussion to Copper Kings and headframes; he brings his students to the Butte’s unglamorous Cabbage Patch neighborhood, its brothels, its warehouse district, its graveyards. These students develop an appreciation for those people whose stories are too often swept under the ornate rugs of our city’s extravagant mansions (the Chateau included).
This past week, Fisk presented his students’ work at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives for their bi-weekly Brown Bag Lunch series. He said emphatically, “This presentation is not about me. This is about them,” pointing at the group of teenagers huddled nervously in the back of the room. He’s right. Teaching should not be about the teacher, but about the students, and Fisk understands that more than most teachers I have encountered. Likewise, history should not be about the past, but about the present it has impacted.
The Chateau is truly lucky to have a group of interns who have been taught history by the likes of Chris Fisk. Tori’s and MacKenzie’s videos are glimpses at the kind of work that can come out of a mutual respect built between student and teacher, past and present, history and historian. Enjoy: