I'll be the first to admit that I didn't enjoy studying history in school. I'm sure it was partly because immersing myself in history just wasn't a priority in my life—not like leg warmers and big hair were. But I also think my teachers could have done a better job explaining historical events in an interesting and creative way, making the connection between past and present to reveal history's significance and relevance.
I also don't remember talking much about historical events at home with my parents, and I'm afraid I might be making the same mistake with my own children. I am reluctant to teach them some events in history because so much of it is ugly and violent. But as much as that is true, it is also true there are beautiful chapters in history as well, like when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and when women finally earned the right to vote.
When it comes to teaching history to our children, here are a few thoughts to consider:
History teaches us how to learn from our mistakes. In her poem entitled "The Rock Cries Out to Us Today," Maya Angelou writes, "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." What a valuable tool to pass along to our children: the ability to look at a situation and consider how the outcome could have been different had people made better choices.
History helps us understand the present. So much of what is happening in the world today can only be explained by reviewing events that have led us to this place.
History gives us a sense of identity. As American citizens, I want my children to know how hard others Americans fought to give us the freedom that we now enjoy. And I want them to know the meaning of Emma Lazarus's words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
History takes us on a journey across oceans and continents, introducing us to exciting people and cultures along the way. Studying history is a great way to teach children about cultural diversity, acceptance, and tolerance.
Peter M. Stearns of the American Historical Association said:
History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty.
It offers the only extensive evidential base for the contemplation and analysis of how societies function, and people need to have some sense of how societies function simply to run their own lives.
The past causes the present, and so the future. Any time we try to know why something happened—whether a shift in political party dominance in the American Congress, or war in the Balkans or the Middle East—we have to look for factors that took shape earlier.
Studying the past has immense value for the future. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly...it's all part of our story. So consider your child's interests, and introduce Leonardo da Vinci to your budding artist, Albert Einstein to your little inventor, or set up an archaeological dig for your young explorer. Teach them that studying history can be an exciting, beautiful adventure!
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