Is History History?

I grew up on movies that starred “The Brat Pack” and the like. It seemed like these big named teenaged actors were always shown in some history class where the teacher droned on in a monotone about endless dates and events while students were lulled into a dull stupor. Believe it or don’t, but I actually hated high school history class and it wasn’t because I was forced to memorize that the Battle of Hastings began in 1066 (Okay I have groaned to my mother “Why oh why do we have to learn this? How will this help me find a job?” But I grew out of asking those ignorant questions). The biggest reason why I hated high school history was because I was one of three Black people in a class among students who drove Beemers, Benzes, and any other high end car that you can think of (that always gets wrapped around a tree in their respective subdivisions). Being one of the few Black students in class, was something I was very used to and actually comfortable with as a result of my elementary years being spent in Teaneck, so that wasn’t the problem. It was just that there, in an atmosphere where almost everyone was an United States immigrant, I didn’t always have to defend my Blackness. In high school, I did. It was an intellectual fight daily. Yes, I know that I went to school in Hilton Head, but it was still the south. I always found myself having to defend why I would vote for Jesse Jackson, if I could vote (I wouldn’t now); why the Civil Rights movement had to occur; and why we would not appreciate still being held in bondage. Oh yes, a classmate actually said to me that slavery was a good thing because it made us Black people more civilized (What? A continent that produced the pyramids, royalty, and early forms of government needs lessons in civilization?!?!). When I protested her stupid logic, she proceeded to call me the “N” word. Nice huh?

I did not like History class, but I loved learning History. My favorite periods are the Civil War, along with the surrounding events, and World War II. See in my readings, I know that the Civil War wasn’t just about freeing the slaves or about White people oppressing Black people. While true, it was all about economics. No one will give up something that makes money. The point I am making here is my knowledge of that, helps me to understand why in present times, the rich are getting richer and the middle and poor classes are getting the shaft. So I just demonstrated one reason why we still need to be taught history. The point with this one example is to convince people that learning history is still necessary today even among science, math, and computer technology. When history is erased, humans are not only doomed to repeat the same mistakes, but they become ignorant to cause-and-effect events that can greatly impact their lives.

Recently, I asked a question on my Facebook page if history was still relevant. There were many responses posted to the thread that suggests that it should not be cut from the school curriculum to make way for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Some of the other comments were are follows:

1) Basic Knowledge! – Most students can’t tell the difference between The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Now you know George Washington and the other Founders of this country are rolling over in their graves.

2) Students need to know that they too can make history and be instruments of change. It’s hard to be a change agent if a person does not understand what and why something needs to be changed. For example, how would people know the significance of sections of The Voting Rights Act being repealed if they don’t know the history behind it?

3) History is political, national, and cultural identity and it needs to be taught not only from just the dominant perspective, but from all perspectives. Absolutely! Every culture has history. People who know their history understand their place in society and have a better chance of being successful.

4) History needs to be discussed as it relates to contemporary culture. Absolutely again! Learning history helps us to understand present society. It’s that whole being an instrument of change thing.

5) Parents need to be instrumental in teaching history. This means passing down personal stories (even the painful ones) and traditions. You don’t want someone else knowing more about than you know about yourself. Forewarned is forearmed.

6) Learn your history so that you don’t look like a complete fool on Twitter.
OMG, enough said…

I remember while attending Hampton, my classmates a pretty militant bunch, always talked about “His” Story being the only one that is told and we needed to learn “Our” story. As a history teacher, I am really sad to say that today’s students don’t care about “His” Story or any “Other” story. Maybe that is what the powers-that-be are feeding off of. They don’t make history a priority, because we as a society do not. In order to change that, we need to do better. We need to collectively value the lessons that came before and build on that knowledge so that we do not continue to repeat the same patterns. We need to start with our family history. I guarantee that those stories are intertwined, with “His,” “Our,” and “All” stories.


4 responses to “Is History History?

  1. People today live in the now….the moment. Who has time to look back when everything is happening right here right now? We have no past, not really a future, just the present. Where does learning history fall into this mindset??????

    I’m convinced that if many of these young knuckleheads really knew their history, really knew the struggle that our people went through, they would truly appreciate what they have now. Gen Xers are the first generation post civil rights movement. Our parents lived through segregation and we heard firsthand what their experiences were. What have we told Gen Y or the Millennials about the struggle? At this point, whatever we say is the equivalent to the “when I was your age, I used to wah wah wah waaaaah….”


    • You know that you are right. I am afraid our generation seriously dropped the ball in teaching the younger about what our parents and the previous generations had to endure. I think we got complacent without expecting that they needed to arm themselves with knowledge in order to continue to build upon the foundation they laid down. It’s a crying shame.


  2. Pingback: Gentrify Your Own Self! | Palmetto Author

  3. I don’t know if we got complacent, it could be that we didn’t really have a “something” to fight for….or that “something” to define us as a generation. Yes, there were busing issues back in the early 70s, but we were still too young to rally in that. There was Title IX for girls and sports, but once again, we were still young. We did grow up under constant threats of nuclear war with the US’s chilly relations with the Soviet Union. But????? I don’t know. As we entered into the 90’s, I remember rallying against the Gulf War, but once again, is that our “when I was your age” story? Our Boomer parents’ struggle was not ours. We were the result of their struggle. So if we had no real struggle, then what could we share with our children? And by struggle, I mean that one unifying issue that affected us all, regardless of socio-economic status.


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