Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Musings: Learning about History

“Study the past, if you would divine the future.”
--Confucius
I like this quotation not only because it’s from a Chinese philosopher and I am fascinated by Chinese history and culture, but also because teaching ancient, world and American history to my middle school students in content-based ESL classes was loads of fun and some of my most enjoyable moments of teaching happened in those classes.
Why studying the past is good for the future
Confucius; source: Wikimedia Commons
So many students think history is boring or don’t see the need for learning about what happened so long ago but I think that is because there is so much information to cover and not enough time in which to teach it.  Plus, many elementary and middle school teachers do not have a strong background in history themselves and so have a harder time making it accessible to their students.  And nowadays many school districts in the U.S. are even eliminating Social Studies as a separate subject altogether--such was the case in a district I used to teach in--which only reinforces the idea in students' minds that history is not important.

But cutting Social Studies as a separate course from the curriculum does a definite disservice to students.  While it is certainly possible to incorporate social studies concepts and historical events into language arts lessons and, in fact, the ELA Common Core State Standards do just that, the focus is different.  It’s my opinion that students need a dedicated course to learn civics and geography and economics and about civilizations of the past.  Without such knowledge, students will not grow up to be informed citizens or able to make knowledgeable decisions about world events.

Studying the past provides numerous opportunities for analysis and discussion, both in writing and in speaking.  Determining why something happened in the past can help us understand similar events in the present and be prepared for the future.  Thinking like a historian gives students skills which are useful in whatever career they pursue.

As others have said, if you don’t know history and learn from it, you may be doomed to repeat it.
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