At heart, I am a historian. Inspired at a young age by my father, history — reading it, studying it, learning from it — became as much a part of my growth and development as my faith and my family. It wasn’t surprising then, that I became a history teacher.
I left teaching in 2008, but remain the history nerd I’ve always been. Because teaching is also in my DNA, I started writing and sharing my musings through social media and other outlets. Four years ago, I created this site, which is always evolving, but which has provided me with an outlet for my passion.
My thoughts and opinions are my own, however, the facts of history belong to every one. Facts exist. Not only that, they are recognizable, provable, and substantiated through research.
In approaching the study and teaching of history, context, open-mindedness, and more importantly, critical thinking, the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, have been and will remain my core values. Anything else is not research, it’s an agenda.
Preconceived agendas and unproven assumptions have no business in education, much less in the study of humanity. History is the study of humanity. If we cannot look into the past with genuine curiosity, unimpaired by preconceptions and bias, then we disparage and marginalize the generations that came before us, diminishing their wisdom, accomplishments, and sacrifices. More than that, to our own detriment, we dilute our ability to learn from their mistakes or to improve on their successes.
Finally, when we attempt to rewrite history to suit our own selfish ends, we do a great disservice to future generations. Generations that have every right to explore the unvarnished past for themselves, to form their own opinions, to learn from both the good and the bad contained therein, and to pave their own way.
Why Does History Matter?
First, we ARE history. From our genetic makeup, to the technologies we use, to the things we value and believe in, we are living products of history.
Second, the past teaches us about the present in a myriad of ways. Looking back through the long lens of history we discover patterns. After all history is created by living, thinking beings. Through research we can examine historical documents, records, and publications that reveal the ideas, motives, philosophies, and practices at the root of all human, and therefore historical, events.
Inevitably, examination of historical records reveals, over and over again, the following truths:
- Some ideas led to growth, inventive thinking, and positive change; while others led to destruction and chaos;
- Some led to increased freedom and prosperity; while others led to oppression and persecution; and finally,
- As history is created by human beings who are imperfect, it is also imperfect, but it’s never irrelevant.
Why? Because the point of studying history is this: through critical assessment of the events, the players, the ideas, and the outcomes, what worked, what did not, we learn from the past and then by applying that knowledge to inform our present, we grow.
Third, our shared heritage is a vital part of the fabric that unites us. On a personal level, our family history provides us with a sense of belonging; a sense of identity. It can be an extreme source of pride, as well as a foundation upon which to build. Examining our family history, is no different than examining our national history.
Understanding our history is vital to the future of our country. That shared heritage is what unites us as Americans. Certainly, it’s not perfect, but it’s ours. From generation to generation we’ve learned, we’ve grown, we’ve evolved as individuals and as a country. That shared heritage is also why history education matters. As Dr. William Bennett, author and former Secretary of Education stated, “If we don’t know where we came from, what our legacy is, what our inheritance is, how will we then support and defend it?”
Fourth, by studying history we acquire a range of skills that are useful in almost every area of our lives. Most notably, studying history creates informed citizens, with the critical thinking skills, research skills, and general awareness to make logical choices and informed decisions. Our nation’s founders believed this to be so critical to sustaining democracy, that they envisioned a vast public education system that prepared youth to be active participants in the system of self-government the Constitution created.
You don’t have to be a historian or even a formal student of history, to explore the past and to develop and apply the skills and lessons learned.
We engage in similar activities on a personal and social level daily, almost without thinking. How often do we research reviews of others’ experiences with a product or service we are considering before committing to a purchase? How often do we “put out feelers” through our social media accounts for recommendations on the same? How many times have we asked a family member or friend for advice simply because we value their experience and therefore their ideas and wisdom?
History, in the formal sense, is really no different. We look at the past to assist us in making decisions that impact our present and our future. Growth, afterall, requires us to examine the past in order to learn from it, thus, enabling us to move forward with wisdom and purpose rather than holding on to anger, discontent, and malice. As Winston Churchill so wisely offered, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
JN Fenwick (© 2019-22)