Blending Past and Present History's Facts, Names Secondary to Analysis for Mundelein High Teacher Neil McCarthy

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Byline: Russell Lissau By Russell Lissau

Mundelein High School history teacher Neil McCarthy's classes resemble episodes of the public affairs show "[URL]The McLaughlin Group;[/URL]."

McCarthy doesn't lecture so much as he hosts a conversation about history, current events and the patterns that link them.

Take a discussion about [URL]lead smelting in Peru;[/URL] from an AP World History class that occurred this past May.

After the class read an article about the impact the work has on the environment and the indigenous population's health, McCarthy directed the teens to talk with each other about what they read.

And then he challenged them to share real-world solutions, picking student after student in a fast-paced round robin.

"Go, Ruby," he told one girl.

"Taz, what do you think?" he asked another a few minutes later.

The kids eagerly gave their ideas. McCarthy responded with encouragement and more questions.

McCarthy's students don't just learn. They debate, in a style right out of Plato's "Republic."

And that's the way McCarthy wants it.

"I think the facts and the names are really important, but they're secondary to the primary goal, which is analysis. World history as sort of an intellectual exercise," McCarthy explained. "In other words, you use the wisdom of history to explain today's events, which are incredibly complex."

It's this approach to teaching that led McCarthy -- a 40-year-old Evanston resident -- to be selected by the Daily Herald as a "Top Teacher," a designation for suburban educators who distinguish themselves in their daily duties and beyond.

[URL]Mundelein High;[/URL] Communications Director Ron Girard praised McCarthy as a role model who encourages students to be excited about their learning.

"Neil engages his students to do critical thinking in all levels of courses," Girard said in an email. "The 'why' is most important for him."

McCarthy has taught at Mundelein High for 14 years. He led five classes this past year: AP World History, AP European History, World Studies, Modern Latin America and America at War.

McCarthy isn't as outlandish or prone to ridiculous political predictions as the eponymous host of the "McLaughlin Group," but he is no less entertaining.

He strives to connect with his students by talking about a current situation or an important concept and then jumping back to history to discuss it. …