June 03, 2004

End of History?

I read two interesting posts the other day. The first, at Joanne Jacob's site, concerned how teaching about WWII has ceased to be about the war and is only about social history, including, inter alia, our crimes against the Japanese interned in California. The second, at Erin O'Connor's blog, Critical Mass, discussed how the teaching of history has suffered as schools concentrate on reading and math in the elementary schools to the exclusion of social studies.

Are we at the end of history? Or at least teaching about history?

I have no clear recollections of what I was taught in school about WWII history because I was largely self-taught. I devoured every book I could find in the school library on the topic in middle school and continued reading well into college. Any holes I had were self-filled.

History is not only critically important but it appears to be both undertaught and also the prisoner of ideological constraints. If we spend all our time in the class room learning about our horrid treatment of Japanese/Americans, we miss out on the good and the great that we as a country accomplished in WWII. The good and the great needs to be acknowledged so we don't raise a generation of children who think that the US is the greatest terrorist state or who think that calling for a "million Mogadishus" is civilized criticism of US foreign policy. After all, how do we know where we are going if we don't know how we got here?

That said, kids need to be able to read to learn about history. Math is obviously terribly important, too. The emphasis on these subjects, to the exclusion of history, in order to push up test scores, concerns me greatly though. The effects of a lack of historical knowledge will be seen as a cascade, it seems to me. Kids will be less prepared in history in high school and thus, probably, less prepared to do advanced work in college. They will be less prepared and less able to challenge historical error and deliberate distortion. In short, they will be less able to act as responsible citizens. That is probably my biggest fear. I hope I'm over-reacting.

Posted by Random Penseur at June 3, 2004 09:50 AM
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