Monday, April 14, 2008

Why should we study history?

Let's hear what the experts have to say:

"History is to the nation ... as memory is to the individual. An individual deprived of memory becomes disoriented and lost, not knowing where he has been or where he is going, so a nation denied a conception of its past will be disabled in dealing with its present and future."
--Arthur M. Schlesinger

"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past..."
--Patrick Henry (Speech on the Stamp Act
Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775)

"The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false." --Paul Johnson

"No individual and no generation has had enough personal experience to ignore the vast experience of the human race that is called history. Yet most of our schools and colleges today pay little attention to history. And many of our current policies repeat mistakes that were made, time and again, in the past with disastrous results." --Thomas Sowell

"History, by apprising [citizens] of the past will enable them
to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of
other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges
of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know
ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it,
to defeat its views." --Thomas Jefferson

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana

Good Day to You, Sir


Don, American said...

But how do we correct, "History is written by the winners?"

Anonymous said...

We were reviewing the American Revolution today and I used a PPP slide of the Boston Massacre in my High School world history class. It was a print of the death of Crispus Attucks (the first casualty in the American Revolution). One of the ways our school is trying to close the achievement gap has been by incorporating African-American history where ever possible in the curriculum.

Some of my African-American students questioned excitedly as to why I showed a black man being killed. They verbally protested that, " . . . of course you gotta show a black man gettin' killed . . ." To which I answered with " This is Crispus Attucks . . .", they still complained. When I retorted with " . . . you all argue that I should do more African-American history. . . " , they still replied that what I was doing was not good enough. I then replied with, "Damned if I do and damned if I don't then?" To which they said, "Yup, pretty much." I then moved onto the next slide discouraged, not having the time to argue with them about their position.

I think this illustrates the difficulty that teachers face (whether they are African-American or not) when trying to teach European history to most African-American students. I have taught for many years and have encountered this resistance to European history repeatedly from African-American students. Even though many of my African-American students share the same political values as their Western-European counterparts they fail to see connections. There is a tendency to separate themselves based upon race, expressing that only white people do this or that. It is a frustrating experience as the state standards for World History have nothing to do with African-American history.

Oh, and by the way, this resistance was encountered while teaching a group work based review lesson. In fact, the resistance has happened all semester as the students have continually labeled the course content as "racist" and "only about white people"(even though its mostly about concepts like the militarism, etc.) Here again some of my students see those "isms" as only things white people do.

I wish I was not bound so much to the state curriculum. With all these Sophomores loaded with "piss and vinegar", I'd like to be able to challenge more of their assumptions about the world.

But, alas, I am bound by the calendar and the state standards and the seemingly endless drive to close the achievement gap.

In my view, some African-American students are in the gap because of their unwillingness to suspend their views about the history of Europeans and their ethnic group. Would you listen and learn if you thought that everything you were being taught was lies? In other words, their sense of history is that it does not belong to their group; it is not theirs.

Funny thing though is that I do not experience this type of resistance from any other ethnic group on campus (of which there are 35).

I think this is connected to Chanman's previous post on being easily duped.

Thanks for reading,

Darren said...

Sad but exceptional comment, George.

Don, American said...

And sadly, George, Obama isn't going to make it better.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I don't necessarily subscribe to the statement that history is written by the winners. History was written by those who write. Europeans had a tendency to write down their history, while others did not and relied on oral history. Oral history has a tendency to evaporate, while written history remains.