The most hated responsibility in America

Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 7:20pm

When one hears the word “history,” many times a wave of unimaginable horror and boredom floods the mind and a welling of pure hatred fills the soul. History class was the worst time of the day in public school for many, one would rather write a ten-page essay or complete a thousand “find the square root of y” problems than sit one minute in history. Why do these feelings of hatred and despair happen at the mention of history? The truth is that most public school history teachers are actually disguised math teachers forced to teach history, that is why more numbers are pounded into your head in five minutes of U.S. history than in two days of algebra 2. That is not true, but it seems like a fitting reason for the “suckiness” of public school history. There are many reasons why history class is never as fun as recess: under-qualified teachers, the lack of legislative and parental support, and a core curriculum written by well-meaning people who haven’t seen the inside of a public school in decades to name a few. In junior high school, I had a history teacher tell the parents of my classmates that he understood how important math and science and language arts are so he would not give us any history homework because history is not important.

When asked why students hated history, most would answer that history wasn’t relevant to them. Those who had a passion for history said history class almost snuffed that passion out because dates had no meaning since they were not expounded upon. A few people I talked with said that they hated history because they were forced to accept events and dates as true. In science, one is taught theories and the scientific method and variables. In history, we are taught that the British were cruel, horrible monsters that ruled the Colonies with an iron fist and that is a fact which cannot be disputed. I feel this method of teaching is ironic since history is a social science or “soft science” which is to say that hardcore experimentation is not used compared to biology and chemistry (which are “hard sciences”). Why can there be changes in scientific theories but not in historical evidence? The truth is history changes every day. Here lies another issue with history classes: history textbooks only change in appearance and by date of publication, not by new discoveries in scholarly research or archeological excavations.

Enough of why history is horrible, let us discuss why history is wonderful. If you like history, that is great, but I bet you don’t like all history. Enjoying certain aspects and events in history is like enjoying certain movie or book genres, you may love mystery films but not westerns or Twilight over Sara Palin’s autobiography. It is the same with history, you may love mysterious and deadly dealings of the Medici family but not the life of George Washington Carver. Find your niche, explore history outside of the required class and shove the horrible memories away. For it is your duty as a citizen of the United States of America.

That’s right, knowing your history is not just a hobby or an interest, it is a duty of citizenship. Most people only know what rights a citizen is given according to the Constitution, but it goes for deeper. There are certain responsibilities of a U.S. citizen that can be seen in the Citizenship Test. Did you know that voting is not a right, but a responsibility? Also knowing and participating in politics is a responsibility, from knowing your local government to world dignitaries and local issues to international crises. Being familiar with history, especially U.S. history, is one of the most important responsibilities of the American citizen, which is why half of the Citizenship Test is questions about American history. The Utah State Office of Education’s website says knowing history gives “a perspective of oneself and others, and accepting the responsibility to respect the rights of our neighbors, is essential to protecting the freedoms that have been brought forth in our founding documents.” Also as a democracy, learning history is a fundamental practice. According to the National Council for the Social Studies, “The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”

Besides being a duty, knowing your history can make you look professional and intelligent, if you don’t, it can make you look a bit silly. Here is one case we should all learn from (note: this is purely for example, I am not bashing anyone’s political standing): the Patrick Henry Caucus. If you need some refreshing, Patrick Henry is one of America’s “founding fathers” who gave the famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. An excerpt from the Caucus’ website states, “The Caucus believes the Constitution is an inspired document and should be adhered to strictly as the founders intended.” If you know your American history, then you should see the error in this statement, Patrick Henry was a founder, but he was also passionately against the Constitution, in fact, he led the opposition against its ratification.

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