19 January 2010 02:01 PM

Learning About History

by Dr. Rick

The other day I wrote about the importance of learning about geography .  Today I write about geography’s close relative, history.  Kids have a tough time understanding about the importance of studying history.  That’s natural.  They’re young, and they’re interested in the present, their place in the world today, their emerging values and identities, and their ever-expanding relationships with others.


The past?  Who has time?


It’s up to us adults – their parents, teachers, coaches, role models – to share with the youngsters in our lives what little wisdom we’ve managed to accumulate.  Studying the past, we learn, is necessary to understand the present and to prepare for the future.


Here are some reasons we study history.  It’s up to us to make these reasons relevant to our children.

  1. Remember the good.  We want to make sure we remember the good deeds of the folks in our families, communities, and nation.  There’s much to inspire us, much to learn from, much to gain.  These good, brave, and sometimes noble lives can provide models of behavior for us when we need them.

  2. Remember the bad.  People who have lived before us have left us plenty of equally valuable lessons about how not to behave.  Some are lessons in sins of commission, some are sins of omission.  Each is equally important for us to recognize.

  3. Understand change.  When we know the past, we recognize that change is inevitable.  Even in our own young country, just look at the trends in our economy, population, cities, arts, popular culture, medicine, transportation, industry, communication, families, and schools.  Respecting change, explaining it and knowing how to handle it, is a major advantage of studying history.

  4. Understand the community.  Knowing history helps us to understand our families, communities, states, and country.  We can see how people and societies behave.  We recognize cultural prejudices, values, beliefs, and morals.  We can cling to the healthy and discard the unhealthy.

  5. Encourage citizenship.  When we study history we encourage civic participation.  Knowing how our communities grew and thrived, where we were successful, and where we failed, we give ourselves the skills and knowledge to improve our lives and the lives of others.

  6. Increase our sense of identity.  History gives us a sense of community, of identity, a sense of belonging to a group.  Call it patriotism, faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, or allegiance, it helps us to connect with others for the common good.

  7. Develop job-related skills.  Study history and you’ll develop good habits of mind and work.  You’ll need to read, research, interview, analyze, interpret, and develop your speaking and writing skills.  You’ll need to keep an open mind, avoid ideology and your own preconceptions, and to trust your instincts.  What employer doesn’t want these skills?  They’re well suited to just about any occupation.

  8. Appreciate related fields of study.  Learning leads to more learning.  Study history and you’ll soon find yourself interested in literature, sociology, science, mathematics, geography, politics, law, economics, technology, and the arts.

  9. Be inspired.  History provides us with tales of action, courage, cowardice, inspiration, adversity, exploration, creativity, achievement, failure, nobility, and cruelty.  Biographies let us learn about fascinating women and men, the lives they led, the mistakes they made, and the achievements they left behind.

  10. Know stuff and have fun.  Learn history and you’ll open yourself to new interests, new pastimes, new friends interested in the same events and periods, exciting travel opportunities, favorite authors, and new discoveries.  When my students studied Shakespeare, for instance, we enjoyed learning about the Tudors of England, especially Henry VIII and his six wives. (“Divorced, beheaded, died/ divorced, beheaded, survived” is the mnemonic device we chanted as we showed off our knowledge of Old Henry.)

The point, I suppose, is that we live in a present that is dependent on the past and is forming the future.  Why not live our lives with some knowledge, appreciation, and a certain amount of control?  If we help our kids understand the importance of studying history, we give them a great leg-up in a complicated, increasingly connected world.




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