What We Lose Without History
My husband and I had a long talk this past weekend about graduation requirements and college entrance expectations. This is what happens when the family has a teacher and an independent college counselor in the house. Here in Georgia, to graduate from a public high school a student needs 4 science credits, 4 math credits, 4 language arts credits and..... 3 social studies credits. I get it; truly I do. The craze for all things STEAM has been around for a while. That leaves things like history and government and geography by the wayside. Unfortunately, I think that we are now seeing some of the results of de-emphasizing those topics.
Reduced voter turnout, inability to find a country on a globe, lack of understanding of the mechanics of voting, confusion about interpretation of the Constitution, and misplaced expectations about the role of government are all the result of reducing time spent on social studies education in all grades. When students don't learn about the history and mechanics of their country, they are less likely to know how to participate in the way the country works. When students miss studying the connections between countries and cultures and language, they struggle to understand the bonds that exist between people around the world.
In the opinion piece that Representative John Lewis wrote, published by The New York Times on the day of his funeral, he reminded us that, "Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself." If we don't teach students how to do that, then we run the risk of losing the chance to do it at all. Not only are they missing the mechanics of how and when and why to vote, but when schools don't choose to emphasize the subject matter then students can rightfully determine that the subject unimportant.
Representative Lewis went on to remind us of the importance of understanding history: "You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time." It is a hard notion to wrap your head around of you don't study history.
Do I think that we should nix the study of science, or math, or language arts? Absolutely not (though I would have been a happier student with less math). But we need to fix the way that social studies education is handled or we risk losing a lot more than just the knowledge.