Taught in most classrooms in America, our history is rich, exciting, depressing, horrifying, and wonderful. It provides a framework for understanding our own lives and the lives of people in other countries. It gives us an understanding of what has happened before and what might happen in our future. Most people agree that children should learn history. Here are a few of the reasons why I think it is so important.
- Continuity. Children ground themselves by rooting their existence in the stories of their families, their communities, and their cultures. Telling their place in a larger story brings a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, and a sense of importance to their understanding of the world.
- Empathy. By learning about the struggles and trials of our ancestors, children learn empathy. They learn that not everyone succeeds but that a larger story isn’t just about heroes and winners but also about people making mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes, and then figuring out how to carry on. The stories of our country become our story.
- Inspiration. There are many inspirational figures in our history. By learning about inventors, leaders, and those who change our community for the better, children have a sense of their own potential and can be inspired to improve our world, even it if is in small and local ways.
- Connectivity. When learning American History one quickly realizes that we don’t exist in a vacuum. Children learn that no matter how isolated we might want to feel, we exist in a connected world where our action, or non-action, affects other people in significant ways. Our history teaches the history of the word by default, and shows that we are connected in a myriad of ways.
- Curiosity. Learning about the past inspires children to ask questions, peer around corners, and dig in the dirt for more information. What child hasn’t wanted to learn more about what it would be like to live in a tipi, throw tea into the Boston Harbor, or march for Civil Rights?
- Point of view. Children learn that history, just like any good story, has different viewpoints and that people have motivations for writing history the way that they do. In an open history class, children look at how a particular event or person can be perceived in different ways by different people depending on the circumstances.
- Cultural Awareness. As the world grows and our place in it becomes smaller, our history provides us with a cultural awareness of who we are as a group and what we think is important. We are independent like the Revolutionaries, fierce like Abraham Lincoln, inclusive thanks to the Civil Rights Movement. We are courageous like Amelia Earhart and have great taste in music thanks to many people.
- Multi-disciplinary Learning. History has it all. Children practice math with dates, language arts as they read historical fiction and non-fiction, and writing as they respond to what they have learned. Art can be explored through famous artists like the Romare Bearden and Georgia O’Keefe and music that defined a time period as jazz did. Physical education students learn about athletes like Jackie Robinson, games played by children at different time periods, and time-specific dances like the Charleston in the 20’s. Any scientist will study Watson and Crick. The Captains of Business will captivate all disciplines but especially aspiring businessmen and women. American History is a course that covers it all.
Learning American History provides a framework for learning world history and for creating our personal history. It is a scaffold both for future learning and future development. We can build on who we were, improve on what we have done, and become what we hope to be. Learning American History is our first step to building our American future.