This week’s post is by guest author Sarah Bassett. Sarah is a college sophomore, and a reluctant history student. She is also 4QM co-founder Jon Bassett’s daughter. In this post she describes how she used the Four Questions to de-mystify some unpleasant reading — a technique that we recommend for social studies students on all grade levels.

A Reluctant History Student

Having to read anything more than one page has always made me groan. Picture books are amazing. But a textbook? Yeah no. So naturally, history class has never been my favorite. That might seem like a normal dislike for a teenage girl, but for me, it feels abnormal. Both of my parents are total history and political science nerds (a fan favorite Harvard poli sci lecturer and a rockstar history teacher/the creator of 4QM), and I constantly wonder how I didn’t end up with those genes. I mean, come on. It would definitely be nice to feel an ounce of interest while studying the American Revolution, but nope. You would have to bribe me with candy to sit through a lecture on that again. High school history was a challenge for me. I associate the memory of it with long nights of reading a giant textbook full of ancient people I had never heard of, wars that seemed to last forever, time periods I couldn’t put in the right order, and constantly asking myself, “why do I even care about this?” My sophomore year teacher asked me once what my favorite historical time period was. My answer? The dinosaur age, which apparently is not an acceptable response.

In an effort to try and avoid ever having to read a long chapter about a war or Karl Marx ever again, I have avoided history classes in college at all costs. I am an early childhood education major, and I adore young children and the idea of becoming a teacher. Child development is my favorite class- I could listen to a peppy preschool teacher lecture about toddler brain development for hours. However, despite all the fun education courses that I get to take, there is one part of my degree that makes me cringe: 9 credits of “social studies.” And since I didn’t dare take APUSH, I don’t have any AP credits rolling in. So all 9 credits are still sitting there, waiting to be awarded. 

Karl Marx, Again!

This semester, I thought I’d dip my toes in the water and take sociology. It sounded simple and historian-free. The study of how humans socialize and interact with the world? Easy peasy. All was calm until I opened the first chapter of my textbook, and who was on the first few pages? Karl Marx. Memories of sophomore year history flooded back, and as I flipped through more pages, I realized that I really could not avoid the whole history thing. I was going to have to bite the bullet in college at some point. Frantically, I called my dad, who first after laughing at my frazzled state, suggested that I ask myself four simple questions about the “old guys” I was reading about. What happened? What were they thinking? Why then and there? What do we think about that? 

Obviously, I have heard those questions before. I have watched the video of my dad and Gary bantering about their new teaching method and have giggled at their humor. I am an avid 4QM twitter follower. But, since 4QM was born at the tail end of my public school career, I had never actually put those questions into use, and I decided to try it. I sat down and reopened my textbook to the pages with the old people with confusing sociological theories. I typed up a “4QM for sociology” organizer with a girly font. I started to re-read, focusing on the four questions.

4QM To The Rescue

I may be biased, but the 4QM is genius. Suddenly, reading the pages became much easier. I wasn’t taking sloppy, pointless notes, and was able to actually gain an understanding of these people. What happened? Karl Marx created a viewpoint based on a materialist conception of history. What was he thinking? He thought social change was prompted by economics. Why then and there? He wanted to explain the social changes that were arising from the industrial revolution. What do we think about that? Personally, I don’t really know what I think about that.  I haven’t read enough Marx (and probably never will honestly) to form a solid opinion. However, sociologists today are still influenced by his ideas about class systems. 

I called my dad, and I asked him why this system didn’t exist when I was younger. The 4QM has made history click for me in a way that it never has before. No, I am still not going to sit through a lecture on the American Revolution without groaning and Karl Marx is most certainly not my favorite dude. But this notetaking system makes the information attainable and understandable for me, and I am in awe at how simple and concise it is. I will be carrying this with me for the rest of college and into my teaching career. You better believe my future third graders will be asking the 4 questions when they learn about the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. Oh, and I’ll stop teasing my dad about his introduction video on the front page, because yeah, he’s right, 4QM works.