Families, communities, and nations are stronger when individuals know basic history. There are many benefits to knowing history. One of the best reasons is to be able to make connections between something in the past and something in our current life. Another very good reason for studying history is to be able to learn from it. George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those that cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” History helps us to know how our current society came to be. The events of history caused the situations of today, and the events of our time will cause the situations of tomorrow.
I have in the second half of a humanities class. The first half of the class studied the period of time from Adam and Eve through the Middle Ages. This class did a review of what we learned in the first half and then moved forward in time. Last week we studied the romantic period, the industrial revolution, and neo-imperialism. For years I have wondered why the United States and other Western nations are hated so much. The answer to my question goes back decades and even centuries to the 19th Century when colonization took place. Much of the terrorism of today can be traced back to this time period. It was an eye-opener to me to learn that so many of today’s problems were caused by bad decisions in previous decades.
We should study history for our own benefit, and we should teach history to our children. This site lists five reasons why we should teach history to the rising generation. Here are the five motives.
1. Character Study. … As you study history you cover the great men and women of the past. You and your children read about men like Churchill, women such as Susan B. Anthony. The men and women are discussed. You chat about their characters, their likes, their dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses.
At the same time you’re studying the atrocious men and women of the past as well. This gives you the opportunity to dig into the biographies of these people. What caused them to become villains of history? What were their characters like?
… compare Napoleon Bonaparte with George Washington. It is a fascinating comparison. Both countries experienced revolutions and the two men came to power shortly after the revolutions. But the differences are extraordinary. Why did France and the United States go in two separate directions? What were the differences between these two men which shaped the future of the two countries?
2. Discuss morals, ethics, right/wrong. History gives you the opportunity to discuss morals and ethics. Often discussing moral ethics using current events is heated. Everyone has a strong opinion. However when you remove the discussion slightly to the past, everyone can discuss right and wrong. The emotions are removed.
It’s also a prime opportunity to teach your children your world view. Why do you believe the way you do? Why is it right? What is it wrong?
3. Understand the World Today. Our world today was created by events and people in the past. How can you understand current events if you don’t know history? For instance why is there such conflict around Israel and the countries around it? You may know, but do your children?
And what about American history? While 9/11 is current event for me, it’s not a current event for my children any more than Vietnam was a current event for me.
Half of my children weren’t even born. The other half were small children running around the house. At best they remember the day the planes flew into buildings.
If we don’t discuss what happened and why, kids don’t understand what’s going on in the world today. But to understand what’s happening in the here and now, we have to look into the past. Which leads us to World War 2, the medieval times, the Romans, and back into the Old Testament of the Bible.
4. Understand References. People reference time, people, places, and events. Your kids can’t understand the setting if they don’t know history. Who are Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Plato, or Socrates?
But kids aren’t born knowing who these people [such as Karl Marx] are or why they’re important. Kids need to learn about the World Wars, the Cold War, and the Crusades. They must be introduced to mummies, the Wall of China, and Timbuktu. You must teach your children about the wars, events, and people for kids to understand the references.
5. Gain Perspective. Kids get upset over the silliest things. They wail over spilt milk. They don’t have perspective. Studying history gives children perspective. The problems we face today are not that different from problems faced in the past. After all there have even been divisive elections before in American history.
People have faced despair over what appears to be a lost cause. They’ve overcome famines, plagues, and flooding. Even politics have always been a murky affair, just look at the Byzantines!
By studying history, kids learn the problems they face these days are similar to problems people have faced through the centuries. In fact you can even research how people responded to the problems they overcame to figure out the best ways to respond today without making the mistakes of the past.
These are wonderful reasons for teaching your children about history. It does not have to be an all-consuming topic. It is possible to teach a lot of history by discussing it over the dinner table once or twice each week. Just be sure to share the stories of history rather than expecting children to remember lots of dates and figures. You can capture their attention with a story as well as give them a “hook” to hang under information in their memory. You might want to study the people of a certain period or a certain area for a while and then move elsewhere.
You might want to include more than just stories in your teachings. My class has studied history, art, music, literature, drama, and all areas as we have moved through the centuries. As a non-artist, non-musician, I have learned a great deal about these areas, and I have read literature that has widened my thinking immensely. I have no doubt that we can strengthen our families, communities, and nation by learning and teaching history.