My Interview with Herbert Watson

by David Williams

  Herbert Watson is a U.S. history teacher at Tucker High School. Mr. Watson came about teaching accidentally; both of his parents were teachers, and he never saw it as a career path for himself. His teaching career started as a substitute teacher and a coach simply because he was unemployed and needed a job. From there, Mr. Watson found his love for teaching, and 31 years later, he’s still at it. 

A Thirst for Knowledge

Growing up in Virginia, Mr. Watson always enjoyed learning. In school, he was an extroverted basketball player, but he always considered himself a nerd at heart. He was always curious about the world around him and the “why” behind it. He didn’t enjoy math because he struggled with it, but he knew about Pythagoras because he wanted to know why he struggled with math. To quench his thirst for knowledge, he would read anything he could get his hands on. To this day, Mr. Watson reads every time he goes to the restroom, nowadays, he uses google, but when he was still in school, Mr. Watson would read anything from a newspaper to a phonebook. One thing that inspired Mr. Watson was “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. In his autobiography, Malcolm X talks about how he read and copied the entire dictionary while he was in prison to expand his vocabulary. Mr. Watson didn’t copy the dictionary, but he did enjoy reading it. Having knowledge has always made Mr. Watson feel more confident in himself; reading especially gave him confidence because reading allows one to learn on their own. In our interview, Mr. Watson said, “Once you learn how to read, the shackles are taken off.” He explained that the reason slave “owners” didn’t want enslaved people to know how to read was because it would give enslaved people too much power. If you can enjoy reading and learning on your own, then the extent of your knowledge is determined solely by your own curiosity. 

History is Made by People

I asked Mr. Watson about how he encourages students to be interested in history. He explained that in order to enjoy learning about anything, one must connect that subject to a passion of theirs. For Mr. Watson, that passion is people. He doesn’t particularly enjoy studying history for specific events, but rather to better understand people and how our society has become what it is today. For example, Mr. Watson doesn’t just see the colonization of Africa, he tells his students that, “Europeans didn’t come to find slaves, they came to find people, kings, queens, architects,” acknowledging the complex societies and people that existed prior to contact with Europeans. Mr. Watson’s love of people also influences how he teaches history. He understands that not every student is passionate about history, but he tries to counteract this by teaching students based on their individual needs. For instance, at the beginning of each year, Mr. Watson has each of his students do a project on the origin of their own name, which draws a connection for students between history and their own identities. As a student, I can appreciate what Mr. Watson is trying to do with this exercise because I often feel disconnected from the subjects we learn about in history class. This month, black history month, can be important to some students as it gives them the opportunity to learn about history that they can connect to, however, black history should be a part of any history curriculum throughout the entire school year. There is no period or region in history where black people did not contribute to society, which makes the idea of limiting black history to one month unreasonable. As Mr. Watson says, “For me, Black History Month starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st.”