If the state's fourth-graders have to study Idaho history, teachers might as well make it fun, teacher Ron Fisher believes.
"It's the first time kids have to take history. Dates and facts turn them off very fast," the Sorensen Elementary fourth-grade teacher said recently. "Elementary children are more into stories."And that's just what the students in Fisher's class last school year got at history time: stories collected by a teacher determined to make history as interesting to children as television.
Fisher put his stories into books. The first, "Beyond the Rockies," was published in 1983 and has been adopted as recommended curriculum by the state Department of Education.
Fisher, 42, published his second book this spring. "West to the Pacific: The Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," is an elaboration of one chapter in Fisher's first book. He already has begun work on his third book, an elaboration of a chapter on Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe.
"Idaho history was the thing I dreaded most about being a fourth-grade teacher," said Fisher, who has taught elementary and secondary classes for 20 years. "I didn't feel qualified."
The texts in use when Fisher became a fourth-grade teacher were the same ones he used in 1956 as a fourth-grade student. He found the abbreviated texts "out of date and inaccurate."
He also found the books uninteresting for 9- and 10-year-olds.
Fisher rewrote the information in the textbooks in story form. He sent each chapter to the Idaho Historical Society for proofreading. He also sent chapters on specific groups to those groups for clearance. For example, he sent his work on the Mormons to officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to verify his facts.
Fisher published the book himself in 1983 after publishing companies told him there was no market for Idaho history books. Now, Fisher's first book is in its fourth printing. He's sold 10,000 copies, primarily to schools. Because he marketed the book as a text, he wrote a teacher's guide to accompany it.
Fisher began work on "West to the Pacific" two years ago, after a friend convinced him that some of Idaho's history is of interest beyond the state.
He wrote the book for a teenage audience and illustrated it himself. It tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition nearly drowning in a ravine during a flash flood. It also tells of grizzly bear attacks and how 47 men and Sacajawea covered themselves with bear grease to protect themselves from swarms of mosquitoes.
The Washington Centennial Commission has endorsed "West to the Pacific" as recommended centennial reading. The $9.95 paperback also is before the Idaho Centennial Commission for endorsement.
Like Fisher's first book, "West to the Pacific" has been adopted by the Idaho Department of Education as a supplemental text. The book is geared toward older students, but Fisher read the book to his fourth-grade students last year, and they seemed to enjoy it, he said.
"I don't write scholarly treatises. I want to write a story but keep it very accurate," the teacher said. "My whole idea is to give kids the information they want to know about people: age, looks, trivia. The purpose is to hook kids, give them a firm base on why Idaho is such a neat state."