It was my first day at Chandler High School, back in A.D. 1997. I shuffled with the other students in to my after-lunch class, World History with Mr. Lowell-Britt. When everyone had settled, we watched as Mr. L-B wrote in wide white letters on the chalkboard: "Why is Learning History Important?" My first high school writing assignment! I thought. Goody goody gumdrops! (Later that day, I was inducted into National Nerds Society based merely on this thought.) Why is Learning History Important? Hmm…yes, that's a good, juicy question. I'll have to really knock him out of the park with my reasons why.
That night, when I sat down to write Ye Olde 5-Paragraphe Essaye, I found I was stumped. I had the vague notion that learning about history was unequivocally important--everybody knows that--but had serious trouble expressing any concrete reasons for this pillar of truth. I think my completed essay went something like this:
There are many different reasons why learning about history is very important.
First of all, history is very important.
Secondly, if you don't learn about history, you're doomed to repeat it. (What exactly did I mean by this? That if I didn't learn about cave drawings, I'd someday wind up in a loincloth scratching at walls?)
Also, learning about history is very, very important.
In conclusion, there are many different reasons why learning about history is very important.
Somehow I don't recall getting an overwhelmingly fantastic grade on this. Oh, well. As they say in French, "C'est la guerre!"
At any rate, the years have gone by and I have accumulated more history of my own…thirteen brutal and bloody war-torn years of it. Whoops! Again, getting historically confused. But with those years of personal history, I have come to embrace ever more the concept that learning about history is important. And now that I'm an adult, I think I can better elucidate the reasons why I believe this to be true. (Don't worry, it doesn't involve loincloths.) Here goes:
1. Your personal history is immeasurably important--to know your identity, even to realize why your family is crazy like they are. Something as simple as knowing your family's health history could save your life. Similarly, to know other people's history is to know who they are and how they got that way.
2. To be an educated member of society. I'll put it plainly: tuh nawt bee dumb.
3. To understand why the world is the way it is, to have at least a smattering of understanding of why people and cultures are unique, why they do what they do, love what they love, hate what they hate. To understand the backstory of a group of people is to understand how to better operate with/among them.
4. When you know something of history, your experience of life is enriched. If you don't know anything about Chinese history, the Great Wall is just a freaking gigantic long wall. If you visit Germany not knowing anything about German history, you're going to be rather confused about how strangely bilateral Berlin seems. (And you'll be totally put to shame by a German 14-year-old who can list every U.S. state.) I promise you your vacations will be much more interesting if you go with an idea of the background of your destination.
As an adult, I don't believe we are doomed to repeat history if we don't learn about it. That sounds more like a rumor some cranky old history teacher made up. But I do believe that even in a perpetually forward-reaching culture, we can still learn a lot by looking back every so often.
And so, in conclusion, there are many different reasons why learning about history is very important.