Nothing influences the decisions we make today more than our understanding of the past. This influence extends to all aspects of life, from the spiritual and political to the mundane choices we make everyday.
Generally speaking, history can be divided into just two categories: the personal and the secondhand stories that society passes down. The history that we personally experience is much more limited, but we understandably give it more weight. After all, we bore the consequences of that experience, good or bad, so it naturally makes a bigger impact. Experience is the hardest teacher and all that.
That’s why we tend not to notice the impact of non-personal history lessons. We don’t feel as connected. Yet their influence is every bit as important.
Movies are a great example of how much we can be influenced by second-hand stories. During the two or three hours when we are learning of the characters’ histories and followings their decisions to the conclusion, we make a lot of decisions ourselves. We decide who is the good guy, and who is the bad. We decide who to root for. We decide how we want the movie to end, and how we expect it to end.
What about a movie with a well-executed, unexpected twist? When it turns out that a key bit of information was withheld, the revelation at the end makes a huge impact. Think Crying Game, The Usual Suspects, The Others, Frailty, Fight Club, and of course, The Sixth Sense. (Come on, you know you didn’t see it coming.)
After the conclusion you spend the next hour in amazement, replaying scenes in your mind and trying reconcile the new bit of information with what you had already decided.
That’s just a shadow of the very real impact that real history has on us.
Here’s an interesting real world example of history’s influence. Ani DiFranco is a music artist with a particular audience. Both she and her audience’s understanding of the past certainly impacted her decision to cancel a ‘Righteous Retreat,’ which she had accidentally allowed to be held (gasp!) at a plantation site. Serious You Guys. That is outrageous if you are a member of her audience. Out-rayyyyy-jus.
Okay. Now that we’ve established history’s pervasive impact on individual perspective and decision-making, let’s look at some examples of history that our children learn at school.
In Hillsborough County it appears that the 6th grade Social Studies textbook is Holt’s People, Places, and Change. (It’s actually rather hard to find out what textbooks are used, and I cannot verify whether this book is still in use.) I have a copy of this textbook, thanks to Amazon.com. It’s coverage of U.S. history, from colonization through the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, is six pages long.
That’s a lot of history in very few pages. It’s theoretically possible that more in-depth coverage takes place before or after 6th grade. I doubt it, though. The 3rd and 4th grade social studies books were chockfull of nothing. Heck, I remember my own history books and classes being chockfull of nothing, with the exception perhaps of Mr. Bob Guy’s A.P. U.S. History class in 11th grade.
Back to the book. In those scant six pages, slavery and women’s rights are mentioned twice, so there’s that narrative reenforcement. Also, George Washington’s contribution to our nation was highlighted.
Would you like to guess which trait the authors would have General Washington remembered for?
Perseverance? No. Courage? No. Strategical prowess? Nope.
The correct answer: Citizenship.
Which doesn’t even make sense. The text doesn’t even say “good citizenship.” It just says, “citizenship.” How, exactly, does the fact that he was a legal member of our nation make George Washington an important historical figure?
Compare that textbook to the one from the Sonlight homeschool curricula, which just happens to be the one I use: The Landmark History of the American People. This book’s coverage of U.S. history, from colonization through the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, is 80 pages long. It doesn’t mention slavery and women’s rights even one time in those 80 pages.
Ooh, does the author wants to hide this shameful past?
Nope. There are whole chapters devoted to these topics, later on in the two volumes.
Do you know what else the Landmark History includes, which People Places and Change does not? The actual text of the actual documents. Technically, the U.S. Constitution is on page 95 of People Places and Change, but it’s a tiny illegible sidebar, with the following caption: “‘We the People’ begins this signed copy of the U.S. Constitution.”
Isn’t it awesome, the way “We the People” reinforces the socialist and communist narrative about the “People’s Party?”
Anyway. In conclusion. How much does the “women and slaves weren’t included!” six-page narrative influence the everyday decisions of young people today? How much would the “George Washington’s perseverance, great courage and good judgment was key for this nation!” 80-page narrative influence that same set of young people?
That’s the part no one can quantify. Yet, I’m pretty sure it matters.