Having studying International Relations throughout my collegiate career, I can attest to the amount of history lessons I have soaked up. Even when I wasn’t trying, history was determined to pervade my life.
For those students who dislike history classes, let me tell you now that history never goes away. You just find more interesting ways of acquiring that knowledge. For me, that’s traveling. Learning history in a manner that makes me experience history’s outcome in present day communities and cities. I can choose to focus on micro elements of history or keep to the larger relationships in play.
Disturbing is not the amount of students who dislike history class (although my history teachers have been some of my favorite and most effective mentors), but rather the amount of effort spent by educated adults to try and influence what history is being taught. I should be happy that history is seen as a vital part of developing well-rounded, thoughtful new adults. However, that is not what’s occurring. Historical textbook debates have been about crafting well-polished future constituents for religions and institutions alike. Craft the history book, craft the future voter.
No history textbook will ever be complete, nor will it ever be completely accurate. But at which point do we limit the voices that get their say over their content?
More depressing is the fact that the textbook debates have lost focus over the true purpose of history: understanding the person.
History was never meant to tell us how to live our lives, but rather how people have lived their lives. History is not a molding for the future, but rather a glimpse into the past to understand the creation of the present.
And in the root of it all, the lesson that should be in the history textbooks is the examination of the learner’s own past.
In all the history lessons I’ve acquired throughout my lifetime, the most meaningful are the ones that highlight who I am and where I’ve come from.
Not just the simply questions, such as my place of birth, my parents’ love story, or even my grandparents’ move cross-Atlantic.
The deeper questions: Why am I so engrained with an innate curiosity to wander and explore? Do I think in the same way that my immediate family does? How about my distant family? How far down the line can I find elements of myself in others?
And questions that highlight myself as the big picture: Where have I been, spiritually and emotionally? What have been my battles? Which have been won, which tied, and which surrendered? Were my victories at the expense of another’s loss?
History is personal. The learner should be as much integrated into the narrative as the dates, names, and inventions. We walk outside everyday paving new histories, but never truly seeking our own.
If I’m going to travel far and step into ancient temples, I need to know who I am to discover who they are. I need to be a person of understanding to understand a people. These aren’t skills we naturally learn. They are crafted by others who seek to understand us in order to empower us. They help us develop our sense of self; past, present, and perceived future.
In all the discussions of what to add, delete, or amend to the history textbooks, no one has stopped to wonder why self-exploration is not worth the journey? Isn’t my existence as significant as the other peoples found in the pages of my book? Are the students sitting in classrooms at this moment not the future leaders and doers and trouble-makers of histories-to-be-made?
History contains the word “story” and my story is just as important to learn as all the others. Where I come from and the way in which I perceive the world is going to always influence the way in which I interact with my world. History is about people throughout the ages. We are all persons engaging in the web of historical relationships. History is personal and the person should be a part of the discovery.