Learning from history (programs)

A happy 4th of July to everyone who celebrates Independence Day in the US of A, and even if you don’t celebrate the American holiday, a happy 4th of July anyway… it is the fourth day of July, after all. This is a day in America, not just for rest and relaxation, but to reflect on the events of 1776 that led to the founding of this nation. History is ever relevant.

Last night I posted about The Men Who Built America. Like I said, it was about a specific era of American history, blemishes, dings and all. That era, the late 1800s to the early 1900s, added framework to the foundation of our country. The next part of history, however, the years after, from early 1900s and onwards, was only mentioned in passing as they talked about the innovators (such as Hershey and his chocolate, yum!) who came after the events in the miniseries.

But where to go from there? As I mentioned before, I was homeschooled – three quarters of the school year in tenth year, the second semester in eleventh, and the whole of twelfth grade. Learning history was better when I was at school due to the involvement of the teachers I had at school (the teachers I had for homeschooling during tenth and eleventh were Spanish teachers – basically I learned nothing of relevance from them, and even had to teach them math, as I was more advanced in the classes than they were, which did nothing but made me resent Spanish.)

That passive, bare-bones version of learning history was disappointing to me. History classes I took in college were somewhat better, but again, not anything that thrilled me. The teachers I had did not really make history alive to me, or simply went over the basics, many with glossed over facts. So imagine my delight when, walking through a Virgin Records store years later to come across a tiny book with the intriguing title “50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know.” Pocket-sized for easy traveling, a short and easy read, this book can be considered a gateway book to learning more about history outside of what history class tries to program into you. Some people suggested it was like a fifth grade version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present“, and that may be true, as it only talks about fifty points in American history. Zinn’s “A People’s History” may be a bit radical in its tone, but it is an accurate accounting of events that occurred in history, history that is often hidden, glossed over, or buried in a deep dark pit in the middle of nowhere, and the idea of learning “forbidden knowledge” can be thrilling to a student who otherwise would turn up their nose at having to learn history. (Okay, it’s been years since I’ve read it, but from I can recall it was accurate.)

I am not a liberal, nor am I truly conservative. Like most Americans – like most people – I am a moderate, not leaning too much in either direction, looking at things from the middle, let’s face it, you can actually experience more of what’s really going on when you’re in the thick of things. So, Zinn’s tome may be a bit on the liberal side, true, but I feel it is important to look unflinchingly at the unvarnished history, because, as they say, if you fail to learn from history, you will be doomed to repeat it.

If you are interested in programs about more recent history, a reader – Mack – suggested Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” (it is a Showtime series, but you can probably watch it online at Showtime’s website.) I myself have not seen it yet, so I cannot make an accurate assessment of it. I understand that it covers American history from WWII to the present, and therefore is likely to also be an excellent supplement to teaching history. He felt that “The Men Who Shaped America” did not do enough, that it needed to be a mirror for learning, for reflecting. I do not necessarily concur.

Please understand – I do not recommend “The Men Who Shaped America”, “50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know”, or “Untold History of the United States” as anything more than a teaching tool – something to help engage the student’s mind. The teacher, or the adult who is eager to learn, is responsible for using it responsibly – not as a substitute for doing any actual teaching – and in helping the students create their own “mirror” and learn to research properly. The purpose of learning history should be to not only know where we’ve been, but to help put it in a framework for us to build the future upon, to think, to move forward. A show about history does not necessarily require being a mirror for us to to connect to current events. We can create this mirror in ourselves, using what we’ve learned, using to make leaps of logic, such as taking two seemingly unrelated events, finding similarities, and arriving at a conclusion. A show about a period of time long past can still be completely relevant without having to relate what happened back then to the now – that should be the task of student and teacher both.

The best teachers out there don’t merely want “one correct answer” from you – they are there to teach you to think, dagnabit! Yes, an education begins with getting a basic grounding of knowledge you are expected to know to be considered a well rounded person, but many schools have lost sight of the fact that they are supposed to push you past that point, to inspire you, the student, the scholar, to think, to expand the boundaries of your world with your mind. That’s right, any parrot can regurgitate facts that have been crammed into its skull, but more should be expected of us, because more should be expected of schools.

Education does not need to be confined to a classroom. That is something I’ve long believed in. If you are capable of self-directed study, you should not have to be stuck in an uncomfortable chair in an over-sized classroom, another faceless, nameless number in the crowd of other students. A school’s purpose, besides providing an education, is to be for social relations – if you already have a good network of people, there is no reason to go to a traditional school.

Food for thought, eh?

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~ by cerridwyn eldritch on July 4, 2013.

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