“Ugh, why do we have to learn about history?” says pretty much every student, ever.
And it makes sense. History can certainly draw yawns in the classroom.
But it’s not the history itself that is lacking. It’s often an absence of personal connection and relevance that sends students into the snooze chamber.
Learners of all ages need connection; an understanding of how historical events relate to their own lives. And they often need a little kickstart from their peers and teachers, to get there.
So, how do we help students connect history to their own lives?
We can begin by exploring the reasons why we teach history at all. It may seem like a no-brainer for educators. However, the WHY behind teaching history often doesn’t flow down to the brains of the learners.
And as universities reduce class offerings in the field of history, the argument for the benefits of teaching history become increasingly challenging.
However, it’s essential to realize that the understanding, comprehending and applying
In the proper context, written history can be pretty darn powerful. And we’ve only been deliberately recording human history for the past 6,000 years. That’s not very long. Which may be why, as humans, we’re still awfully terrible at using history to our advantage.
We all have the ability to change that. We can begin connecting history to our modern lives to help humanity build a more positive future.
**BONUS: We’ve created a little history rap song about this topic if you’d prefer to give that a watch. In addition, we hope this article serves as a valuable set of reminders for why we learn history in school.
1. History has given us millions of brilliant ideas
From stone tablets to smartphones, from chariots to self-driving cars, history has provided a sea of brilliant ideas.
Ideas like ‘domesticating plants’ and ‘using machines to manufacture shirts’ have propelled human societies into a rapid phase of developmental expansion. And right now, we’re only in the beginning of that phase of growth.
Analyzing these ideas helps us understand where we’ve been and make predictions about where we’re going.
On a personal level, these ideas provide useful insights to understand our ancestors. They give us a peek into how their lives were enjoyed and the problems they faced.
Many of history’s ideas can be helpful on a grander scale as well. We can look back in history to understand modern politics, help us make decisions to improve the economy, or how best to react in a time of war.
Let’s not get the wrong idea: not every idea in history has been brilliant. The poor decisions in history provide us with perhaps the most insights and value in today’s world. By analyzing poor decisions and their ramifications, we know how to avoid similar situations in the future. Plus, all of those poor ideas eventually led us to the sea of brilliant ones.
So why are history’s ideas important to understand?
In all aspects of life, these ideas prepare us to make accurate predictions and better personal decisions to benefit the future of our species.
2. History helps us understand trends about ourselves
In the short, 78.8 year lifespan of a homo sapiens, it’s hard for us to fully grasp the concept of time. Our sense of time is so skewed to the few years we’ve been alive, that even 200 years seems like a long time to us.
But on the grand scheme of things, 200 years is nothing. With the earth being around for 4.6 billion years, 200 years is a blink of an eye in comparison.
And although we’ve only had written recorded history as a tool for the past 6,000 years, it’s still provided us with incredible insights. Over these 6,000 years, we’ve been able to build models to understand the macro trends of our species.
Trends in human history, such as a steady decrease in violence, an increase in human collaboration, and significantly improved education across the globe. Yet, in our day to day, we don’t see these trends. Our news channels tend to drown us with negative details of microscale events. And so we end up in a perpetual day-to-day cycle of believing the world is falling apart when in reality, humanity seems to be doing alright.
But not every historical trend is positive. But when we zoom out to this historical scale, it allows us to think differently about our world and adjust accordingly. An analysis of historical trends helps us develop accurate predictive models of our future.
On a personal level, understanding historical trends can provide many practical benefits. By zooming out and seeing the bigger picture, historical trends can help us reduce personal anxiety and allows us to appreciate what is important in our lives. They can also help propel us into personal meaning, pushing us to start a movement within our community or a larger change within our government.
3. History gives us inspiration and motivation
Need a mentor? Need a few sparks of inspiration for your next project?
History is filled with them.
At your Googling-abled fingertips, you have access to an entire library of history’s greatest mentors. People who have stood up for what they believe in. People who have risked their lives to make monumental changes for our world.
By diving into the past, we can learn more about these individuals, the world they were living in, and the decisions they were required to make. These insights can provide us modern humans with inspiration and motivation to continue making our world a better place.
Think about Thomas Edison achieving 1,093 patents in his lifetime. That dude was a machine just pumping out idea after idea. How did he do it?
By adopting the most inspirational, persistent attitude ever, known for saying statements such as, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Figures of history, such as Edison, can help inspire and motivate you in your own personal or community’s challenges.
Is there a movement that you are passionate about? Look back in history to see what similar events have happened in the past. How did it play out? What can you change this time, that may improve the outcome?
History gives us the encouragement that anything is possible. No matter the odds, people unify when they care. And when people unify, change happens.
4. History helps us empathize with past generations
Your grandparents have been through a lot. And we often don’t appreciate them enough.
With the growth in modern technology, it’s crazy to think how quickly the world has changed. Not only do history books show us these changes, but our grandparents show us as well.
You can learn a lot from having a conversation with your grandparents. Where did they come from? What was life like when they were growing up? What do they think of the modern world today?
If you remain genuinely curious, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about the past and how essential these stories are to your modern world. Our ability to empathize with previous generations allows us to feel more connected as humans and helps us make better decisions about the future. Plus, it’ll probably make your grandma pretty happy to have a chat with you!
Practicing empathy doesn’t just benefit your relationship with your grandparents. It can also serve as a valuable tool for your professional career. Google recently shared that “having empathy toward one’s colleagues” is one of their top eight skills for workplace success.
Empathy is a valuable social intelligence tool to better understand yourself and improve relationships with others.
When we observe history, we observe accounts of real people that lived through it. By absorbing and understanding their situations of the past, it helps us to care more deeply about the well-being of our fellow humans.
Think about how it would have been to be in a WWII concentration camp. Or to live through the tensions of the Cold War. How would you have reacted if you were in those situations?
5. History reminds us that we’re human
We are human. All of us.
We have brilliant ideas. We have terrible ideas. We make amazing decisions. We make mistakes.
And every single one of these ideas, decisions, and mistakes help to shape the future of our species.
History is a humbling reminder that you only have a short time on this earth. And the only reason you are alive today is that every single one of your ancestors survived. They made it through wars. Plagues. Natural disasters. Rude kings.
The fact that you are here at all is a historical miracle.
In school, we often only learn about history through wars and prominent figures. But history is much more than that. The deepest understanding of history comes from the lives of everyday people. The farmers. The peasants. The factory workers. What was life like for them? How did historical events impact these people?
The best look at a historical time period is examining the lives of these everyday people. Check out books that are less focused on the big names, and more on the intricacies of common life during a time period.
The benefits of learning history are countless.
But the way we teach history needs to reflect these benefits. No longer can we teach facts and read boring passages. We’re shaping future generations here that will soon be in charge of this world. We need to inspire learners to use history in all aspects of their lives. Even planting small seeds of relevance and relatability can help spark an interest in learners, that can have monumental effects over a lifetime.
Human history is significant. It helps us understand our world; past, present, and future. It’s time to start using this precious tool to our advantage.