The Plodding Through the Presidents blog recently sponsored a writing contest asking people to describe the value of teaching history. While I didn’t win, I did receive an honorable mention recognition. The following is what I wrote:
Why Teach History? In our modern world, why should we be concerned about teaching history to emerging generations when they can simply look up any fact they need to know when they need to know it?
Human Drama: At its core, history is human drama. It is the story of how real people made decisions in real time not knowing how things would turn out for them. History is the story of conflict and compromise. There are three major reasons why we should teach history.
- Sense of Wisdom: Teaching and knowing history cultivates a sense of wisdom. History is the best teacher so each generation doesn’t mindlessly repeat the errors of the past. History informs our collective thinking with insights from the past about how to solve the seemingly intractable problems of today.
- Common Bond: Teaching history builds and cements a common bond with our fellow citizens in an age in which pervasive individualization is breaking down community and the need for creating a society based on the common good. As such, teaching history is one of our best hopes of protecting our fragile and polarized republic by ensuring that emerging generations understand our institutions and how we got to where we are today.
- Shared Humanity: Finally, teaching history helps remind students of our shared humanity and inevitable mortality – that despite the intensity of living in the moments of our lives, we are part of a larger story unfolding on this planet and in our nation. With such an understanding, perhaps we might lean into the “better angels of our nature” and begin to treat others – even those with whom we disagree politically – with civility and respect.
When history is taught well, it encourages the development of critical thinking skills that has benefits that spill over into all of life.