History Matters

by Linda Szugyi | January 6th, 2014

Readability

History Matters

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.) the sixth sense

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.

(By the way Ms. DiFranco, some of the points you made were fair enough, but it won’t fly with your audi­ence. The Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness Police give no lenience, not even for one of their own.)

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 Ama​zon​.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.

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.)  the sixth sense

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.

(By the way Ms. DiFranco, some of the points you made were fair enough, but it won’t fly with your audienceThe Political Correctness Police give no lenience, not even for one of their own.)

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.

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