Thursday, June 4, 2015

7 Questions With Tom Richey

Tom Richey lives in Clemson, South Carolina and teaches government, A.P. U.S., and A.P. European history at Seneca High School.  Since 2012, he has made numerous review videos for his courses which have been viewed by thousands of A.P. students and teachers as they prepare for exams.  His website is http://www.tomrichey.net/, and his Youtube channel is found at https://www.youtube.com/user/tomforamerica/featured .

1.       How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I have a number of memories - the first being in sixth grade as my teacher, Ms. Campbell, was talking about Hannibal crossing the Alps and invading Rome.  She just lectured with an overhead and a marker - everything they would tell a sixth grade teacher (or any of us) NOT to do today - but I was captivated by the story itself and it came to life in my mind.  Then, there was Mr. Felkel, who taught me World History in 10th grade.  That guy was a LEGEND.  Again, another guy whose whiteboard and marker lecture methods would be assailed by the establishment but I swear you could have heard a pin drop in that room because he had such a captivating presence.  I looked forward to that class every single day and I remember thinking, "I wanna be that guy."  So I suppose you could think of the rest of my life as a journey toward being as awesome to someone else as he was to me back then.  It's a constant uphill climb.

2.       What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Do I even have a personal life?  That's a legitimate question.

3.       How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
Where do I begin?  I teach history and run a number of side businesses (YouTube, online tutoring, and I'm even working on an app that I hope to release in September) that are associated with history.  So yeah, it's pretty much my life!

4.       Why is studying/knowing history important?
I'm a big advocate of classical education on the traditional humanistic model.  Unfortunately, our public education system is largely driven by the values of progressive education, which at its root holds that something is worthless if it can't help someone in their future career.  Often, students avoid advanced studies in history because they feel the sciences are more important for their future career.  They don't realize that they have years of college and grad school ahead of them where they can focus on their career paths but they only have so much time where they can truly focus on getting a well-rounded education and a strong foundation in the humanities.  My dad, for example, had all the education he needed to become a physician, but he told me in high school that he wanted me to get a classical education and be someone who could hold his own in a conversation with educated people.  I think having a thorough background in history is key to understanding human nature, which is the key to understanding people and by extension the key to understanding life.  This is exactly why we teach the humanities and why we believe our subject to be important.  You can know a lot about the technical aspects of your job, but if you don't understand people, you're only going to get so far in any field.  I mean, look at Steve Jobs!  He didn't know how to write code but he understood people.  This is the type of person that our society ultimately deifies.

5.       What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Although most of my video offerings right now are in Modern European History and US History, what I really love studying and teaching more than anything is classical history.  I plan to publish some videos on Roman History and some more on Greek Philosophy (my Plato vs. Aristotle video is one of my most successful) in the near future.  I feel like over thousands of years, all of the boring stuff has been filtered out and we've retained the best stories from ancient Greece and Rome.  It seems to me that there's so much minutia required by the curriculum when it comes to recent - and especially contemporary - history.  For example, our latest curriculum materials in US History include the 2009 stimulus package.  That kind of stuff is going to be filtered out with time.  Give me the good stuff.

6.       How did you get into making videos to teach history?
At first, it was mostly about trying to have something available for students who missed class.  Every teacher's familiar with how students show up after missing a day asking, "WHAT DID I MISS?" as if we're going to be able to impart 90 minutes of instruction to them in thirty seconds.  I thought I could spare myself the headache - of course, at that point, I didn't realize how much work goes into making video lectures!  So as I put these videos onto YouTube, I noticed that other people were watching them, as well, so that was really encouraging and I started thinking a bit bigger.  Now, when I make videos, I try to select topics that will be helpful to both my students and to the larger community of students across the nation and the world.  There are few things in life more flattering than someone halfway across the world asking me to clarify something for them or telling me that my videos have helped them learn.

7.       You are the host of a small dinner party of 3-5 guests from throughout history.  Who is on your guest list?
Nothing at all against the ladies, but I'm thinking a guys' night out with a few of the greats:
Thomas Jefferson
Voltaire
Marcus Garvey
Alexander the Great
Peter the Great


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