Gene Bream is one of seven teachers who recently
retired after long careers
at Malibu schools.
By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor
Last week’s retirement announcement of 20-year Malibu High School history teacher Gene Bream has generated outbursts of praise from his former students.
Mr. Bream taught a total of 41 years for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, 21 of which were spent at Lincoln Middle School. He has taught a range of subjects including U.S. history, English, geography, life skills, drama and physical education, but he is known to many of his former Malibu High School students as the best world history teacher they’ve ever had.
One of the most beloved parts of Mr. Bream’s seventh grade world history class at Malibu High was its unique curriculum. Students learned history from 200 BC through 1750 AD of Islam, Africa, China, Japan, Europe’s Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, art history, the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas, and the Enlightenment through interactive projects and games. For instance, to gain a more in-depth understanding of the Renaissance, the students were assigned a project in which they were given the freedom to replicate a painting of their choice from that era. Additional projects included an African newspaper, a Power Point presentation on China, research and orals on Japan, and “Chivalry” (a game about the Middle Ages), among many others.
“After we’ve learned the basic required background information, my goal is always to set out an idea for a project, and then to literally turn the kids loose to develop their many innate skills and creativity to learn what we’re trying to experience,” Mr. Bream said. “It seems that our job as teachers is to encourage kids to go beyond what is required. My job, I’ve always felt, is to inspire kids to explore our topic under consideration, to get them motivated to seek more information and understanding, to want to follow their own fascinating inspirations as they get involved in learning about a new topic or person or civilization. I always try to relate what we’re learning to understanding how we as kids are making decisions each day, making our own history as we go about our daily lives and learning all this ancient history ‘stuff.’”
“Mr. Bream is without a doubt the best teacher I had at Malibu Middle School,” former student Liz Campbell, a 2003 Malibu High alumna and aspiring teacher, said. “He showed us all that learning could be fun. Everyone looked forward to his class.”
Another fascinating part of Mr. Bream’s seventh grade world history course was that he provided his students with the opportunity to literally witness everything they learned about in class with a trip to Europe. Each summer, Mr. Bream would accompany a group of students on a tour through Europe, visiting historical landmarks and introducing them to new foods and cultures.
Tess Diamond, a 2003 Malibu High graduate, said her middle school trip to Europe with Mr. Bream “was the trip that inspired my love and appreciation of art. Mr. Bream instilled a feeling of wonder in everything he taught. He was the only teacher that truly inspired me.”
“In 1998 I got the chance to go with Mr. Bream on one of his two-week summer trips through France and Switzerland,” said 2002 Malibu High alumna Perrie Briskin, another one of Mr. Bream’s former students “In that one trip, he opened up an entirely new world for me, and, most importantly, taught me how to be a responsible, respectful, curious traveler. ‘Nothing’s bad, it’s just different,’ he would say. When I was traveling around Europe in college, those words rang through my head again and again. I’m tearing up, Mr. Bream-I can only hope you know how many lives you’ve touched.”
Perrie Briskin’s younger sister, Jamie, also had Mr. Bream for seventh grade world history.
“Mr. Bream was one of my most influential teachers,” Jamie said. “He inspired my interest in history through his innovative teaching techniques. Thanks to Mr. Bream, I will always remember that people used dogs as napkins during the Middle Ages. I learned so much and came to appreciate different cultures.”
Bream said he hopes his students will remember his class “as a place where it was safe to disagree, if they were willing to argue by citing facts rather than just being emotionally involved. Many, many times we have tackled a serious problem the country faces-Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession-and tried to share some historical perspectives that helped kids understand how complex situations often are, but that there is always hope that we can solve problems if we intelligently explore possible alternatives and not just shout at each other or call each other names.”
Retirement, Mr. Bream said, is bittersweet.
“I am excited about having some time to actually read more than two books a year, learn to bake a delicious loaf of bread, and work on my long-neglected N-gauge train set that has languished in the garage,” he said. “I love my adopted country of France-the people, the culture, the cathedrals, the cuisine-and I look forward to returning as often as I can. I also want to actually stand in front of some of the great works of art created in all parts of the world that I have seen only in books, marveling and shedding a tear at the amazing creativity of which we humans are capable of creating.
“I want to come back to school next year to take one more group of kids to Europe, and to sit in on the MHS chorus’ rehearsals,” he continued. “For these many years these creative kids have been just down the hall, and their hauntingly beautiful notes have continuously inspired me. I will miss them and the tears of joyful appreciation they have caused me to shed. I will miss being part of a world where every day some new idea was enthusiastically bantered about, where some kid proudly discovered that he/she had developed a new skill, where hugs were generously exchanged and little minds hopefully grew a few sizes each day.”