Denise Driscoll joined Stuart in September 1988 as a history teacher in the Upper School. Denise became the Head of the History Department in 1990. Her focus is to strengthen students' ability to write, read and think critically. Outside of the classroom, she continues to study and teach ballet.
Have you always taught history? What was the inspiration for going into education?
My teaching has been somewhat diverse. I have taught history, ballet, anthropology and geography. I was privileged to have teachers who embraced that teaching is a craft and art. I had outstanding role models.
Who were/are your mentors?
I was so fortunate to have outstanding teachers in middle school, upper school, college, and graduate school. I experienced many educators who truly embraced the art and science of teaching. There were role models who inspired me. I recall in graduate school a professor who said, “embrace the art of teaching - an area in which women have excelled.” This moved me and inspired me.
The world and the school has changed over the years since you started teaching here. How much has that influenced your curriculum and teaching?
I have come to realize that marginalized people have an important story to tell. I am far more aware of making sure that their voices are recognized in the curriculum. Fundamentally, the core of my teaching is to ignite curiosity in students and give them skills which enable them to understand complexities.
We all know that women are not represented well in historical textbooks. How do you bridge that gap in your classes?
I resist being overly dependent on the traditional texts which tend to marginalize women. Rather, in every unit of study, I make sure that the role of women is acknowledged and respected. One must acknowledge that women’s roles are diverse - based on race and class. There is no doubt that women have played powerful roles in every historical movement, yet their roles have been traditionally denigrated or denied.
Talk about the process in writing the textbook for your class. Was is filling a need? How has that changed the learning outcomes in your class?
Yes, I wrote a textbook and teacher’s manual in the summer of 2019. It was an amazing and fulfilling experience. I had no idea that I would have found the process of writing a text so fulfilling. Over the years, I had come to believe that traditional World History texts were dull and superficial. They attempted to cover far too much material in a cursory way that deprived students of understanding the art and craft of historical inquiry. I was particularly impressed with the work of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. I also found that Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, offered students a clear and fascinating perspective in human history. I believed that both scholars’ work was accessible to 9th and 10th graders. I also wanted to combine content with crucial skill development which helped students to learn to think critically. The Internet has made the acquisition of factual information easily accessible. Our job as educators is to teach critical thinking, so that the end goal of education is never to simply recall the facts, but rather to be able to detect bias, see complexities, and support generalizations with concrete specificity.
Finally, I always ask the faculty spotlight to share a little-known talent or hobby that others might not know. Do you have one?
Throughout my life, starting at the age of five, I have studied ballet. I continue to take classes, and so I remain a student. This has helped me to understand the challenges and struggles of being a student. I know what it is to be confused, or fearful of a challenge. This has helped me to be compassionate when my own students face what they believe to be an overwhelming challenge. I have learned that starting well, focusing, exerting effort, and practicing are crucial in growth. Ballet encourages a growth mindset. I believe I transfer this ideology into my teaching on a daily basis.