Guest post by Jaron Pak.
How many of us have crammed for a test in the past? We might have aced it, or maybe we passed it by the skin of our teeth. But who remembered all of the information a week later? How about a month? A year? I think we all know cramming information into our heads is not a genuine way to learn something. And yet when it comes to teaching history, memorizing dates, names, and facts in order to pass tests has been the standard practice for a long time. Far too long, if you ask me. The time has come to break the mold! We need to stop teaching plain facts and start teaching real history! The focus needs to be moved from the facts to the life lessons, the choices, and the consequences. We need to do more than just learn the history, we need to learn from history. History isn’t just another school subject, it is a unique way that we can learn from the past in order to improve our future – both individually and collectively.
How often do we, as human beings, make mistakes, learn from them, and then improve our behavior? The way we can adapt and improve ourselves is one of our greatest attributes. But learning that the stove is hot by getting burnt is very different from oh, say learning that violence is bad by fighting a war. The former involves a brief period of pain and healing, while the latter involves months or years of destructive and deadly behavior. It’s O.K. to learn that the stove is hot by touching it a couple of times. It is not O.K. to learn about the horrors of war by fighting a couple first. Learning our history is a vital way to avoid many of the more serious poor decisions and accompanying consequences in life. It allows us to see how those in the past faired when they were faced with similar choices.
Many of us living in the modern world – this small, technological, instant-gratification world – are always charging forward trying to get to “the next thing.” The call needs to be made to slow down and look backwards for a minute. I’m not saying let’s all become Luddites, but if we don’t take the time to slow down and learn from those who have lived full, meaningful lives in the past and have made similar choices that we’re faced with, we are going to find ourselves making the same mistakes in the future. I think we’ve all heard the classic saying by Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
And this idea of learning from history includes recent and local history as well as the big picture stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my elders as I grew up and decided to learn from their decisions and consequences, particularly the negative ones. I didn’t feel like I needed to go out and make the same mistakes they did myself before I could learn the lessons. It was right there in front of me, if I chose to learn from it. And I do realize that some things simply need to be experienced to be learned, but I think that mindset unchecked often leads us into more trouble than good. Sometimes we can take a look at the past and say, “Yeah, if that’s what happens then I’m just not going to go there.”
So consider this the call. We need to do more than learn the names and dates. We can recite the facts until we’re blue in the face, but if we don’t take the time to learn from the choices – and the mistakes – of the past, we are most certainly doomed to repeat them. Not only that, but of course we are often inspired by the good choices and decisions throughout history. Some of my best role models, inspirations, and heroes are rooted in the past. History, recent, ancient, and everything in between, is simply a massive compilation of the most important decisions and consequences that human kind has ever made.
So, if possible, try to stop worrying about making sure your children are ready to pass all the tests. The real job of an educator, when it comes to teaching history, is to teach the stories, and create that spark of interest in the past that will grow over time. It’s time to make history-time story-time!
Jaron Pak is the chief researcher and writer at Home School in the Woods. He is also heavily involved in marketing and sales for the company. He has a passion to bring history to life for young students, and considers history to be one of the most vital subjects we can teach our children. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.