I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ before. If we’ve heard it, then why don’t we place more value on history?
I’m bothered that more and more I am hearing of the disturbing trend of removing the more ‘colorful’ parts of history from education and I find it very unsettling. I’ve heard it said that coming into contact with upsetting parts of our past can be traumatizing to children and teenagers and that’s why educators and parents have begun to express the desire to have displays and depictions of the dark parts of history erased from schools so that their students aren’t exposed to it.
When I was about six or seven, my grandparents took me to Hawaii, and I got to see the Pearl Harbor monument. I learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor, especially from my grandfather, who fought in World War Two. I never forgot how he was able to pick out a few names from the wall of those who were killed on that fateful day.
But instead of being traumatized, I was moved. That visit stuck with me for the rest of my life, and it’s what sparked my interest in history. I continued that interest through college, where I got a bachelor’s degree in history, and my focus was recent European history.
I made it a point to focus on the darkest most terrible parts of Human history. I took a genocide studies class and let me tell you that class was hard to stomach. In it, we learned about the psychology behind the perpetrators and the victims of many different genocides around the world from the Holocaust to Rwanda. Half the class was dedicated to the victims, and the other have was dedicated to trying to understand and analyze those behind these genocides.
In addition to genocide, I studied colonization, oppression, war, disease, from ancient times to the present. My senior thesis was on the effects of trench warfare on the soldiers that lived it on the Western Front during World War One.
Throughout my college career and even afterward, I made it a point to study the worst that Humanity has to offer. And why might you wonder would I subject myself to this sort of thing? Simple. So that I’d never forget.
That is the danger of not studying history. Of not facing the past, even when we are ashamed of it. Why are we so afraid of passing on these valuable lessons to the next generation? Why would we shield children- who someday will be in charge of the planet- from these things?
History isn’t pleasant. There were some very dark times in our past, and ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. I once was in a class, and a woman was upset because we were covering a lesson on the 1920s. She was upset because she felt that the 1920s was racist. Well, of course, it was! But what does she want us to do, go back in time and change it? We can’t change the past. We can only learn from it and go forward. That is the value of history. You don’t like the way people had things in the past? Work to make sure that those atrocities never happen again. The past shouldn’t upset you; it should inspire you. It should move you. It should make you appreciate everything.
It’s important to realize that while things aren’t perfect in the present, people in the past had it so much worse. That’s the nature of Humanity- to continually grow and move forward. To progress. And we can only do that by looking at our past, understanding the lessons that are there for us, and continuing to fight for a better future.
It’s a mistake to think that the errors of the past couldn’t come back to haunt us so easily. In many cases, there are plenty of signs that this could very well happen. Things like censorship, suppression of people’s rights, targeting people because of their ethnicity, gender, religion, or anything else. And that goes for both marginalized groups AND the so-called privileged groups. NO ONE deserves to be trodded on by another. Just because your people were oppressed in the past doesn’t mean you have the right to oppress those around you. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming, learn to move past it and learn to accept the lessons of the past.
How can we learn to grow from our past if we don’t know it? How can we progress if we are being held back by ignorance? It’s important not to shy away from the dark parts of our past. Yes they were wrong, yes they were tragic, but by studying them, we can understand how to prevent them from ever happening again.
I believe that history is just as important of a subject as math or English. It’s always boggled my mind how an education system can put such an emphasis on something like mathematics but can drop the ball on something so crucial as history. And it’s such a disservice to try to cover up the parts of the past that you are ashamed of.
Like, for instance, the Mexican American war. That war lasted from 1846 to 1848, and in it, the United States were the clear aggressors. It resulted in Mexico losing more than half of it’s land to the United States. States like California, Arizona, and New Mexico were forfeited by Mexico to the US simply because we wanted it, and we took it. So why isn’t this covered in schools? Why is it that most American children graduating from high school do not know this war? Is it because it paints the US in a bad light? Maybe if we studied that war more, we’d find some critical insight and would be able to prevent the situation from going on at the border right now.
I could go on about particular parts of history that need to be addressed and acknowledged, and I certainly intend to cover a lot of it on this blog, which will contain plenty of history lessons, and I will not shy away from the dark aspects of these parts of history either.