Why do we learn history? There are those who have stated that if we don't learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat it... I don't necessarily buy that - historical events occur due to such a massive confluence of factors that it is hard to imagine any major world event being repeatable. We can use the past to inform the future but it will not necessarily curtail the potential devastation of events to come.
Instead, I believe that we learn history because it is worth knowing. The events and beliefs of those that came before us have helped shape who and what it is that we are as a people. From nations to communities to individuals, everthing that was has created everything that is. Is it necessary for human survival to understand the past? No. But that isn't the point. When we learn about what once was, we are richer for it. We have a greater understanding and appreciation for what is and can better see the world through the eyes of those whose histories have shaped their culture to be different from their own.
My belief in the importance of learning history has led me to an important opportunity that I am excited to share. This October, in Kobe, Japan, I will be presenting a paper at the International Academic Forum on how to teach history.
This is my abstract:
The purpose of this study is to explore the way that story is used as a method of making the culture and history of distant and diverse peoples meaningful to junior high school students. Canada's aboriginal community utilized the traditional method of communicating the history and teachings of their people via oral communication. These stories teach the student about the way that a culture has lived, utilized the land and interacted with nearby cultures. Often learners are reluctant to engage in traditional history classes due to a lack of engagement, but when teaching uses the aboriginal model of oral history, students have a greater ability to retain and recall the essential understandings of a topic area. In addition, through learning the stories held in high esteem by diverse cultures, students gain a greater appreciation of their values and perspectives. As a result, this study demonstrates that by learning multiple perspectives through the stories valued by different communities, students are more likely to learn necessary curricular outcomes. In addition, students are also more likely to form positive opinions of distant cultures and to feel greater responsibility to contribute to global society.
Photograph from Creative Commons. Mike Peel. August 23, 2008.