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Zoe Takala

Student, High School

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Is History an important subject in school? Or should we be focusing on the future?

In a year 3 essay on dinosaurs I once concluded (much to my teachers dismay) on the statement "We should not learn about dinosaurs in school, because they are in the past, and we need to focus on the future." I now see that history is important, but is it important enough to be a main part of classrooms around the world?

Do you think that history should be condensed or eliminated, and replaced by more pressing issues?

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    Mar 29 2012: We can never move forward without a strong understanding of our past. History helps us learn the mistakes of the past and avoid them in the future.

    I think the question should be .. How can History be taught better in our schools to benefit the students?
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    Mar 28 2012: it would be important, but we don't learn actual history. we only learn which kings attacked which other kings. this is irrelevant. we don't learn how people lived.
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      Mar 28 2012: To be fair, my ancient civilizations course included sections on the culture, fashion, economy and religious practices of all the empires it explored (albeit not in too great detail).
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      Mar 28 2012: Are you aware of how boring the classes would be if not for the kings? :)
    • Mar 28 2012: Hi Krisztian,

      Might I recommend "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman. You will appreciate what our ancestors lived through.

      Best wishes,
      Doug Bell
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        Mar 28 2012: in return, i recommend you two television mini series from terry jones, ex monty python, namely the "medieval lives" and "the barbarians".
        • Mar 29 2012: Thanks Krisztian, I'll look them up.

          Doug
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    Apr 10 2012: Definitely history is not that easy.however it is a cognitive process for us to know what had happened on this planet we are living now.History is really important in shaping my worldwide value in my early years of life and it it taught me what is right to do.i am really into it.so i take my stand to take appropriate history lessons.
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    Apr 8 2012: If one doesn't know the past, how s/he will understand whether her /his efforts are only targeted to re-inventing wheel or not?
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    Apr 7 2012: I feel that history illustrates our failures, and without history, we do not have the tools to create a successful future.
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    Apr 7 2012: Yes, history is a very important subject in school. how else would the kids know the value of what they have today.
    That will be really stupid, if we stop teaching history in schools, one or two generations ahead none would know how we reached the present state, where we are coming from. it will be like the whole human race has got amnesia.
    who would value those historic monuments, imagine the statue of liberty beeing treated as a mannequin.
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    Apr 3 2012: Our history is our future. Only the toys change, mankind is very predictable. Forget the past and it will only be repeated.
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    Apr 2 2012: I think history is presented wrong. 90% of it is dates and titles in most schools. This to me is 100% useless. In good history, you could change all the dates, and all the names and it would be just as useful and interesting. Why? because it teaches a lesson. It shows a discovery. When I was in history class, I would take a boring sentence out of my textbook and go to my dad. He would say something like "That's ALL they said??" and he would toss away the textbook and give me context. He would tell me about what people expected would happen, why they believed what they believed, and how their perceptions were changed, how they felt. Who was starving and who empowered them. He would talk about what made these people famous, how they came to power, how they were thrown down from power. Going into school I was astounded to hear these vibrant incredible people consolidated into names and dates. History is a predictor, but only if you learn it in a way that means something to you in your context.
    tl;dr It is very useful, but only if done right, in a way that is applicable to the future.
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    Apr 1 2012: Frankly, all of you have good points; however I think there is something missing. History, to some degree is important, but it is typically taught in a memorization manner. Never in my whole educational background was I challenged to reflect or re-evaluate how history works, but rather how much I could retain. This, I think is where we go wrong with learning history.....there is no process of looking at it from a productive perspective. Furthermore, we typically only learn history of our own country but the reality is that history is so universal cause nearly every country is interconnected whether it be through economics, culture, business, finances, goods and services, ecological perspectives. I only remember learning history on war, not of other types of historical subjects. So this is my thought!
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      Apr 1 2012: I agree Leslie!
      I didn't like history as a young person, because it felt like the important thing to pass the course was to memorize names and dates in an effort to get a good grade. There didn't seem to be any interconnectedness or understanding about how history evolved. There didn't seem to be any effort to make those connections. So, perhaps it is the way in which history is presented?

      I agree with you...."never, in my whole educational background was I challenged to reflect or re-evaluate how history works, but how much I could retain". I had the same experience with the educational system.

      It was not until I traveled extensively throughout our world, that I learned more about how things developed. My greatest "lesson" was prior to an adventure to Egypt and Jordan several years ago. Just prior to my departure, my brother (a retired world history teacher) was staying with me for awhile. I read 14 books about the history and culture of the region, and my brother and I had discussions every night ....fascinating....educational....enlightening.....FABULOUS!!!

      With many of my travels, the information that I memorized throughout the formal education process started having meaning. When visiting many historical sites, many things started falling in place regarding how, why and when our history evolved as it did.

      As an adult, I LOVE history because it gives me information regarding how we evolve, and that feels important to me. If we can make the connections, and understand how and why we (humans within societies) evolved in the way that we have, it is very interesting. Perhaps it would be beneficial if history was taught in a different way? I think/feel we really need to connect with our history, and understand how it impacts our future.
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    Apr 1 2012: History has a strong tendency to repeat itself. The most important lesson we can (and have to) learn from history is how to avoid making the same mistakes again. This is why we speak of a duty of remembrance with such things as the holocaust, forgetting it or trivialising it might lead to similar events in the future. It can also give a sense of perspective on human achievements and geopolitical relationships. In fact, can one truly make informed decisions about geopolitic affairs without a solid grounding in history? Many of the problems of the futures take root in the past. Can we hope to solve the Israelo/Palestinian conflict without a good understanding of how we got there in the first place? As for dinosaurs, who wouldn't want to learn about them!?
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      Apr 1 2012: Dear Matthieu,
      I totally agree...we need to understand our past, to improve our future. We need to know where we've been...how and why.....to create a better tomorrow:>)
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      Apr 1 2012: Oh, absolutely. I agree with all that your post expresses.
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      Apr 3 2012: I'm also on the band wagon. In Australia our most reverent day of rememberance is ANZAC day. Several years ago it was suggested that we cease this rememberance of war as it celebrates all that is bad about humanity, but then it ws pointed out that ANZAC day doesn't celebrate a great victory it is observed in memory of a pointless crushing defeat. This is exactly why history is important. You celebrate the bravery of the men and remember the horror of the battle.
  • Apr 10 2012: History creates value and shapes our life. We make better decisions at knowing what all have done it the past. From bad to good, we live in a better life knowing history. History is a difficult subject to learn with all the names, dates, and material being covered. History is nice to read about since everything deals with it like languages, art, or sports. I do not think we should keep history as a subject because it makes us...think differently. It is what it is. I wish I was more into it. I do focus on other subjects at the library. There should be better ways at being engaged in a history course like more projects! There should be more history courses.
  • Apr 9 2012: I don't think it is easy to focus on a shifting potential future, one that is changing with each rapid step in modern technological areas... medicine, computing, agriculture and communication; to name just a few.

    My son attends a school which provides field trips to support history tuition. The 13 year old students have just returned from a week in Pompeii because the class were learning about its destruction. For me, there is something worthwhile in turning history into a living essay which demonstrates something of how people had lived at the time under scrutiny.

    Learning about important dates and the events to which they are attached, does little to place students within the social milieu which is being studied. Our social history provides us with a context within which we can exist meaningfully. This is clear from the social mores which we witness in our daily life.

    The simple act of a handshake has several meanings within different cultures. It dates from at least the 5th century BC and Wikipedia is informative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake

    Reading about the handshake is a unidimensional activity. Visiting several cultures and experiencing the differences would be more informative. Knowing that the Greeks practised handshaking in the 5th Century BC is not especially useful information on its own so teaching that fact has little intrinsic value. Debating why the Greeks shook hands is a more profitable area of study and underpins why historical events give us a context in which we can place ourselves.
  • Apr 3 2012: The problem with history being taught to students under the age of 20 is that they lack cognitive abilities to fully grasp the narrative, to use the modern parlance. Doesn't history gain significance as we as humans mature? For the same reason that only people who have passed the midpoint of life believe doomsday is imminent (latent fear of their own demise), young people are better served learning contemporary geography and current affairs and then working backward. The problem with our educational system is that we start from the beginning and work forward. All people lose interest in things that seem far removed from themselves. It is only with the perspective of age and experience can we see the bigger picture.
  • Apr 2 2012: A few thoughts on...

    Learning from history :There can be no unbiased appreciation after the fact, all perspectives of past eventstravel through layers of interpreatation and interpolation. Do not expect truths from history books, expect opinions and observation. Pre-video history is all about probability, not certainty. When several sources each tell you a different thing, how do you judge the facts of the matter?

    Modern examples of this abound, here in Canada, a bi-cultural nation, we have several differing histories, the aborigional song of the past, the fracophone tale of woe and the loss at Abraham in when the English brought thier rule, among others. This difference is institutionalized, with vastly differnt accounts of past, and present, offered in the schools of culturally different areas.

    Added to this is your own bias... when one reads the plight of the slaves, the child labor,we have an instinctive moral response. Spartan boys of 8 were taken from thier mothers, beaten and starved in a regimen that we would not see fit to visit upon the worst of our criminals, and this was a culturally sound policy, for it made them the pre-eminent infantry in Greece for several generations.

    And yet we gloss over Aristotles endorsement of slavery, as we do the pedastry of Socrates, who considered it the honored duty of a greek male to introduce the sons (12-14) of his friends to the arts of love. It was something you did, if you wanted to be a good friend and citizen.

    We keep the legend of the 300 spartans at Thermopolaye alive, and The Physics, and the Dialoges, while simultaneously divorcing them from the peoples and cultures who did and made these things. Trying to understand history from a litany of dates is meaningless without the context of culture, and all of those cultures are dead. So to often we bring the present into our understanding of history, rather than tan the objective obverse.

    Regards...
    • Apr 3 2012: Echoes of Nietzsche. Cultural bias defines history. Like most of his sophist remarks, "those who forget the past are doomed to relive it" is misinterpreted as a life lesson to be taught. He was actually referencing his theory of eternal recurrence. I'd like to know your opinion of my reply to the history question. Thanks
  • Mar 30 2012: yes it is importance but not to the extent suggested by our education system.
    'You can analyze the past but you must design the future'- Edward De Bono
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    Mar 29 2012: Zoe, Those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Ergo, our history guides our future. All the best. Bob
  • Mar 28 2012: Hi Zoe,

    Yeah, it's important. You'll want to make your own mistakes, not just keep repeating the same ones that other people made.

    Here's an example. There's a penninsula in Turkey with rows of white crosses, lots of them. Each one sits over the body of a young Australian man, not much older than you probably are. I study history to honor them, to understand why they're there, and with the hope that we can prevent it from happening again.

    Best wishes,
    Doug Bell
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    Mar 28 2012: Factual history is elusive and of great value. Subjective, biased history is malignant and typical.
    We do not need an alternative to the study of history, we need objective, factual history to study.
    QUOTE: "The men who make history have not time to write it."--Metternich.
    Akin to Journalism, Historical information must be free of the writer's opinions, prejudices, allegiances, pre-suppositions, and personal preferences. We should reform and retain History as part of a complete education. Good question, Ms. Takala, thanks.
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    Mar 28 2012: History allows you to get to know a lot about all the cultures in the world and why we are now like we are. I think the main problem with that subject is how it's teach. I never paid attention to history classes in high school but I can watch the history channel all day long. Probably the best way to teach history is to do it in a very modern and interactive way. But the question is then: how many people that studied history and teach it, are the kind of person that likes modern and interactive models.
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    Mar 28 2012: History is an essential subject, but then I would say that as a History graduate. However, an understanding of our collective past is important because it gives us a sense of belonging and can help us understand the modern world by explaining the political, social and economic processes which have created the world we inhabit. In the UK History is not compulsory after the age of 14 and this is unfortunate because I really do believe that knowing the past helps us understand our likely future
    • Mar 28 2012: Thanks Daniel,
      I really appreciated your view, I can see how the evolution and series of events could help us relate to ones in the future.
      Zoe
    • Mar 28 2012: Do you think that more time in our school history lessons should be focused on learning from the past and using scenarios throughout history, to solve problems today? like a subtopic of problem solving? I would really like to hear your thoughts on any changes you would make to the curriculum etc.
      Zoe
      • Mar 29 2012: Hi Zoe,

        Here's a scenario that could fill a semester or two....

        Take a few minutes and look up "Cuban Missile Crisis". We came very close to a full out US-Soviet nuclear war. US President Kennedy notes that his response was heavily influenced by having just read a book about the spiraling events leading to WW1. He expressed his determination not to start/continue the same. The fact that you and I are able to have this exchange may be largely due to his interest in that historical period.

        Best wishes,
        Doug

        (BTW: The book is "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman.
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    Apr 10 2012: Our history is crucial in teaching who we are and what we have accomplished thus far in life. It tells many stories of how we can make different choices that will yield positive results for our future. The same amount of effort that goes into teaching history, should equally go into teaching about our future.
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    Apr 8 2012: I don't know what people mean by history anymore but social science [ the branch of science that studies society and the relationships of individual within a society ] is built almost entirely from past events. In this field, we learn almost exclusively from the past. . It happened before we coined a name [see genocide] learnt from it and took measured to prevent a repeat [see United Nations or Human right]. We are nothing without the past. It might interest one to know that pioneers of the Renaissance were inspired by the discovery and spread of important classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome. . The problems of our time in Development economics, the area I know little about, is lack of historical reading.

    The relevance of history to our survival in the developing world cannot be fully expressed in written terms.
  • Apr 8 2012: Can we be here ( or any where ) without the past? And whatever we think / talk in the present even about future,
    is it not on the foundation that we built in the past? So, knowing the past, even if that past is only a perception of some human being with all the colours of the glasses or the defective eye such a person could have had, still leaves some thing to think about to arrive at our own conclusions to move forward?

    That is why History is important. But problem with us is that we want to "believe" whatever supposed to be "History"
    and then instead of working on it, we want to either bind ourselves to that or completely falsify it. Both extreme positions.

    Cannot understand why human beings have such resistance to " INFORMATION " that could be processed into knowledge which could then be applied in the actions that we perform. Is there any moment in life without some action or other? And to decide up on to act or even not to act, what becomes the basis? Is it not the information gained thru History converted as knowledge?

    Cheers
  • Apr 8 2012: It seems irresponsible to not study history--history of anything! But to think that we "learn" from history is somewhat of an illusion. I feel that we only learn selective elements in history and probably pay more attention to history when it cost resources such as time, money or material. As we say in my field (information), if you want to learn from history, indicate how expensive the mistake was. Yet sadly, no mention is ever made of how many jobs a mistake cost meaning that welfare is an insufficient learning motivator. I know that this sounds terribly materialistic and almost wrong but I assure you that it's probably not--just difficult to realize. Think of the number of times genocide has happened in our recorded history and despots--even today--continue genocidal practices falsely believing that their regime is justified. Study history because it's the responsible thing to do but also realize that we don't necessarily learn from it.
  • Apr 7 2012: Well, the future is often reviewed, a tool of review is through history.

    With that said I believe history should rather be compressed with more thought on how it should be reviewed.

    If one looks at systems:

    Form (the structure)
    Elements (parts, components etc...)
    Characteristics (traits behaviors, etc...)

    Then one has interrelations, behaviors, relationships, impacts forces etc....that work in/on the system. I think that history ought to be taught in such a vein, so as to make it more critical, and as you apply relevant to seeing the present and the future.

    Far too often, things are taught as distinct, when in fact they may be different, but are inherently similar.

    For a good review of the History of Political Order, which impacts and touches on so many domains, and is a useful, and corollary to what I have said, see Fukuyama's, History and Origins of Political Order, toward a masterpiece.

    A few thoughts
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    Apr 7 2012: I think history is a very important subject in school, because it teaches us were we came from and who we are. That is very important in life, knowing the truth about the origin of life, of your life. Simply without history the future doesn’t exists.
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    Apr 6 2012: Study your HİSTORY from that learn your PRESENT and from that again give shape to your FUTURE
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    Apr 6 2012: I like this question. And yet, I find this question a real hard stuff to answer.

    But consider this statement from one of our national hero in the Philippines. "He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination." Ang hindi lilingon sa kanyang pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan.

    History is a very great thing. It could not continue to exist if it has nothing to do with humanity.

    History is important. It includes culture, identity, understanding, and many other things. If we neglect history, it is like you have nothing to tell about your childhood or your high school memories. No, but more than that.
  • Apr 6 2012: If we don't understand the historical context of our birth and the generations before us, we will never completely understand ourselves. And that's not just hyperbole. I believe that the sooner we internalize this information, the less confused we will be.

    Consider for instance, two realities of our existence. Why is it that English is the world's language of business today? Why is it that the US is the reigning super power? To answer the first question you'd have to invoke the the British Empire. To answer the second, you'd need to discuss the World Wars, the Cold War and their aftermath. Two examples of how history very concretely relates to our present reality.

    Agreed, dinosaurs may not directly inform our daily lives today. But we can't eliminate history from schools altogether. Other, less credible sources, would then be used to form children's opinions on how their realities came to be. This could be harmful in many ways, I think.