History is a very important subject. Although there has been debate over the years about whether or not to remove History as a core subject in high school, this has not yet happened. I hope it will not. History is inspirational. Personally, it has improved not just my knowledge of the past, but my analysis in general, and has honed my opinions about a wide range of subjects, including my knowledge of current affairs. However, according to a poll conducted on debate.org, only 53% of people believe that history should continue to be taught in schools.[i]
History is a subject that focuses on the past, but can also give us an insight into the present, and how to deal with circumstances that bear a significant resemblance to those of decades or centuries ago. For example, the current recession has been compared to the Great Depression beginning in 1929. The reign of Elizabeth II has also been compared to that of Elizabeth I in the late sixteenth-century as a Golden Age.
Robert Phillips quotes Frank Furedi who suggests that ‘anxiety about the direction of the future has stimulated a scramble to appropriate a past’.[ii] Because we are having so many problems in the current climate, it makes sense that historians in particular want to look at the past to see what can be done differently.
Phillips then continues to discuss what the most important aspects are of history and what people should learn – the history of their own country, the important events and figures.[iii] In my own opinion, it’s important to know the important figures like William the Conqueror, Henry V, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale because you can then apply their principles and ideas to the wider events of the time, and to what happens now, and who you want to be. Learning about key events like the Battle of Hastings, the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation, the Spanish Armada, and the English Civil War, gives us a sense of patriotism, and of the importance of Britain within history.
An interesting point of view being given on the debate over whether history should continue to be taught in schools – ‘unfortunately “revisionist history” is what is being taught in schools today. They change and skew the truth, or leave it out completely for so called politically correct reasons, or to shape the opinions of the students with falsehood and outright lies.’[iv] I do not know whether ‘outright lies’ is correct, but it is certainly being warped in order to get around the ridiculous intensity of political correctness, where nothing that would have been said just ten years ago is acceptable anymore. Tell history as it is, or it is not history at all.
Now a very succinct summary of what history does for us: ‘Scholars say that teaching history to kids has many important benefits. History provides identity. Studying history improves our decision-making and judgment.
History shows us models of good and responsible citizenship. History also teaches us how to learn from the mistakes of others. History helps us understand change and societal development. History provides us a context from which to understand ourselves and others.’[v] All correct, but one point which caught my eye was that history provides a context to understand ourselves and others. This is important because people are changing incredibly quickly particularly because of environmental factors like schools and parenting. Rules and regulations have become less important o society, and so it is even more important to prove to our children just what is important and what keeps a society functioning.
If teaching is not being given from an early enough age to engage children with the subject and with the past then there is next to no chance of them taking the subject at a later date. ‘In most schools, the average 13-year-old is lucky to get one hour a week of history, making it difficult for even the most gifted classroom performer to develop a strong narrative arc’.[vi] Teachers are particularly important within the first years of a child’s school life and if the teachers fail there, then there is little that teachers later on can do. Invest in primary school teachers and you may be able to encourage the next generation to take on the important subject that is history.
History is essential to the past, present and future. Without it in schools, we would not have influential historians like David Starkey, Richard Evans or E.P. Thompson. Moreover, without them, we would not know as much about our ancestors, and how to deal with current problems.
[ii] Robert Phillips, ‘Contesting the Past, Constructing the Future: History, Identity and Politics in Schools’, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 46, No. 1 (1998) pp. 40-53