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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why History? (Dear Katie V3 #18)

Dear Katie,

About 20 years ago I asked a high school class why they study history.  A student named Dan raised his hand and with great courage said,

"So people like you have a job."  

I wasn't angry, I had to laugh (note: Don't take yourself so seriously that you can't laugh at statements like that).  To this day, I thought it was one of the most clever answers to a question I have posed in the classroom.

He was reflecting our modern world view.  It has always been my belief that History Education has lost its value in our world of

"If it can't make you money, then why learn it."

History allow us to see we are just a very small part of a bigger story.
History is one of those courses that make us human.  It moves us beyond ourselves to think and contemplate ideas and causes greater than ourselves.  Maybe that is why there is a rejection of history, we want to make everything "about me".

History is the "Laboratory of Life"
Unlike science, we cannot run experiments and use trial and error to see if something works.  The past allows us to see if it could work in our present.  The past allows us to evaluate current events in the world around us.

History is key in understanding others.
As a teacher, you will hear about your students' home lives and gain a better understanding of why the behave as they do in the classroom.  You will learn "their history".  History allows us to see why events occur in the world around us and gives us a better understanding of our world.

For example, the struggle of the West and Russia over the Ukraine is nothing new.  Some people take it back to the Cold War struggles between the two powers of the last century.  Is it?  Or do the roots go back far greater.  

Look up the Crimean War.  

Look up how many ways Russia in history tried to mold itself to be the Byzantine Roman Empire.

Look up the Pope declaring Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor in the West even though there was a European Christian emperor on the throne in Constantinople in the East.

History allows you to see that that there is truly 
"Nothing New Under the Sun."


In class the other day we were talking about the massacre in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram.  The thousands of people who died as the world watched.


Student 1: Why don't we (U.S.) do something about to help those people?
Me: We don't want to get involved in other country's matters.
Student 1: We aren't going to do anything?  How can you say that Mr. Cullen? 
Me: Because of people's reaction to using force to free Iraq of a dictator. If they didn't like the use of U.S. forces then, why would you think people would be in favor now?
Student 2: But if we fight these terrorists we will reduce the number of terrorists that may attack us.
Me: Heard that one as a reason of us fighting in Iraq too.

The students may have not liked the answer, 
but history gave them the answer to their question.

Uncle Kevin

(The above dialogue is not an endorsement of a personal view.  Teachers should be willing to take the other view being presented in order for their students to see why certain ideas are hot topics instead of encouraging the defense against straw men arguments in the minds of their students.)

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