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Is it important to learn history? - Page 3

post #41 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Meg Murry. View Post
There's considerable overlap between anthropology and history. Anthropology is just really, really OLD history.
What? Um, no, not at all. Anthropology isn't history at all. Knowledge of history is often useful to anthropologists, but anthropology is not history, much less "really old" history. Archaeology is one of the four fields of anthropology (the other three being linguistic, social/cultural, and physical/biological) and archaeologists often study old artifacts, but not always - this is a great book about the archaeology of modern artifacts. Likewise, physical/biological anthropologists sometimes study old DNA or bones, but just as often they study modern stuff.

Social/cultural anthropologists and linguistic anthropologists study people and languages today, all over the world... the last research project I did as a grad student is cultural anthropology was a cross-cultural comparison of attitudes toward littering on a college campus, for example. One anthropologist I work with is the world expert on the anthropology of slaughterhouses... he's written some fascinating books.

As far as the real topic... I think history is an awfully huge topic, and there's no way anyone will ever know more than a fraction of it. I do think it's important to understand how our givernment works, so we can participate in the process, but I see that as knowing about government, not history.

I know the outlines of US history, and I know a lot about some small pieces of it. I know a lot about African history, especially the history of a few certain countries. I know very little about Chinese history, other than some big themes. I have a sense of where I fit in time and space, and I'm satisfied with that. I think it's impossible to think of history soley in a linear way, though - those timelines have never appealed - because it's also so spatial. You could learn what's happening in 200 different areas of the world in a particular year, but it's meaningless in isolation. Likewise, you could try to learn the history of one area for the past 1000 years, but unless that area has no contact with other groups, you're missing big pieces of the story - what was going on with these other groups? Why did they decide to invade then, or to emigrate?

I think most people will know more history than woodworking, but I don't think knowing history is necessarily more important... it depends on the person.

Dar
post #42 of 170
Anthropology is the study of human beings, past and present - much more closely related to sociology.

I vividly recall when I stumbled across the anthropology section in my college bookstore, was absolutely stunned to realize that people actually get to major in it and study all that stuff in the process - and went to the office that day to change my major from art to anthropology. Lillian


post #43 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dar View Post
I think most people will know more history than woodworking, but I don't think knowing history is necessarily more important... it depends on the person.
Yes, this. I totally agree.

Great post, btw. I enjoyed reading your comments on anthropology.
post #44 of 170
Thread Starter 
Damn! This thread is so entertaining I can't make myself go to bed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bczmama View Post
Could your kids have a coherent discussion about race in America today, without an understanding of the history of African Americans in the US?
I think most of what they need to know - about slavery, the civil rights movement, etc. - is in that category of history they will probably learn without really trying.

Quote:
Could your kids use their understanding of the importance (or unimportance) of separation of church and state in America when evaluating whether or not to vote for someone like Huckabee or Bush?
You don't have to know the history of ideas about separation of church and state to decide whether or not it's a good idea. I'm often puzzled by people's interest in arguing about exactly what the founders of our country thought about possession of firearms or the importance of God. Who cares what they thought? We should decide what WE think makes sense now, and not worry about whether or not it's exactly what one group of people had in mind back in the 1700's. (Feel free to tell me I'm dead wrong about this, as long as you explain exactly why.)

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Could they form an opinion about whether or not Iraq is like Vietnam, and use that information to inform whether they want to vote for a representative that is pro or anti continuing to pursue that war?
Does it really matter how much it is or isn't like Vietnam? If there had never been a Vietnam war, would you still have an opinion about the Iraq war? Would it be the same opinion you hold now?
post #45 of 170
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Originally Posted by UUMom View Post
It can also win you a pie sliver in Trivial Pursuit. :
One has to have priorities hehehe.

I definitely think history is important to learn about... by history I don't really mean memorizing every boring name & date you can cram into your head for a test. I mean more having a broad understanding of the past goings on of the world, the country you live in.. and your own family All of those things are what have made the human race what it is today, and THAT I think is worthy of attention. Some of those past goings on may be worthy of revisiting today.. and some of them we definitely need to know about so we can set about undoing our phenomenally large societal stuff ups (racism, devaluation of women, etc)

History at the moment in our house is Aboriginal studies :
post #46 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
Damn! This thread is so entertaining I can't make myself go to bed!


I think most of what they need to know - about slavery, the civil rights movement, etc. - is in that category of history they will probably learn without really trying.
I so firmly disagree with this. True history, real history is something that requires a certain amount of excavating. The history I was taught in high school was boring as hell because it seemed to have no relevance at all to my day to day life. I could dismiss it.

Things like race relations today in the US (holy goodness look at MDC for a snapshot-- it's always roiling over here) are completely informed by the events in the war between the states, reconstruction and then again by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But the legacy of those events is NOT what matches up against dates / facts / figures.

When you say they will probably learn without trying, I hear you meaning "the stuff that everyone knows," which usually turns out to be in error. The civil war, for instance, was not started because Lincoln freed the slaves. One little erroneous piece of information can lead to an entire ill-informed assessment of our situation.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
Does it really matter how much it is or isn't like Vietnam? If there had never been a Vietnam war, would you still have an opinion about the Iraq war? Would it be the same opinion you hold now?
Absolutely it could not be. Very few people going into the Viet Nam war knew it would be an atrocity-ridden, losing proposition war. The protesters were angry that we were going to war AT ALL-- they wanted peaceful actions-- or that we were sticking our nose in where it didn't belong. As far as what people knew going into Iraq, we had the recent historical reference that this kind of war can not be won on a military level. We knew this, because Viet Nam taught us that. Yet in we marched. (I am also tired and I know this is a reeeeeally abbreviated explanation.)

Both of these examples I have written about disturb me most because a basic but thorough understanding of our true American history would lead to an understanding of our rights, and how hard-won they were. The informed individual will know when they are being lied to by the politicians. An educated person-- educated in advance, particularly-- will be able to fight effectively in the political / social arenas when the wolves in sheep's clothing come to call. Our country is in a MESS right now, with both illegal (per the Constitution) executive orders and legislation. Yet so many of us (and this is not a homeschool issue at all) don't even realize that.

If I say to you "It is now consumerism that is the opiate of the masses," and you have a good history background, you know instantly that I am not solely saying "spending is like taking addictive drugs." An intelligent person will instantly get that, but she won't experience the fullness of what I am trying to say. A knowledge of history will help someone else, however, infer an entire commentary on the state of modern affairs, coloring my previous comments on the war.

Do you NEED that? Maybe not. You could have a really good discussion about that, without any of the texture or perspective of knowing to what Marx was originally referring. But I'd prefer to not go forward blind. The laws we make / write / allow to be passed today will directly impact our kids. I realize not everyone is interested in raising "good citizens," or individuals who will work for the common good, but that really is one of my hopes. My children are probably going to be the best contribution I have. I want them protected with knowledge, armed with it.
post #47 of 170
I think learning history is an important part of life beyond obtain food, sleep at night, and go to work in the morning.
You probably don't need history to be a conformist cog of industry. I feel that you do need it if you want to have independent decisions and opinions.

I honestly don't feel that you could just pick up an accurate history from common knowledge or movies. Often that presentation of history is in error, biased or has been romanticized.
post #48 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oh the Irony View Post
History, when it is taught well, is not about names, dates, famous white men or battles. You can look that up if you need to know.
It teaches you how to analyze information from different perspectives and sources. It teaches you how to think and how to understand. To see what complex factors are involved in why we are the way we are today.

I think it depends upon what your needs are, what you plan to do and what you enjoy.
Bold mine. This, IMO may be the entire crux of the whether or not we need to study history argument. Most of us only experienced history classes that were taught by coaches who cared more about the upcoming game than the actual curriculum. We were forced to blandly memorize names, dates, and places and it bored us to tears. This stuff is almost incidental, the heart of history lies in the ideas, the accomplishments, the failures, and the humanity of what came before.


Quote:
Originally Posted by hellyaellen View Post
i think that most people will end up picking up the bits of history that are important for THEM to learn

i think some bits will be almost universally important in some cultures/regions/groups

for example i bet most of us have some sense of the history of childbirth and parenting practices....

i have a better than average grasp of rock history

you and your kids will end up learninng what YOU need to know
But doesn't this really limit a person's perspective and appreciation? If you don't have a general sense of history, you can't really appreciate what has been overcome, or what is being repressed now because you simply have no knowledge of the past. This will affect decision making abilities and cause cycles to keep spinning. You wouldn't drive a car without any rear view mirrors would you? It simply isn't safe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
So how does knowledge of history help you make a better choice than someone who is ignorant about history? Does a person really need to know any history to form opinions about global warming, gay marriage, abortion, our country's health care system, or whether we should be fighting a war in Iraq?

Some of your other examples - history of parenting or agriculture - seem more like anthropology than history to me, and they're examples of knowledge that does seem useful to me.


I suspect we're doomed to repeat it anyway.


Can't we assess the effectiveness of our current public education system and compare it to homeschooling without knowing its history? Does its recent origin really tell us whether it's working or not? And isn't that what we really need to know - whether it's working?


Most of us aren't actually going to be making decisions that affect our tomorrows. I mean, we can vote, and maybe influence a few other voters, but I think you could argue that unless you're a politician or activist, you're not going to need historical knowledge for any important decision making.


Wow, talk about not being able to relate! This is so far from the way I think. What else is there besides history?! How about science?

Most of the answers I'm seeing so far are pretty vague. If history is so super important, can't you all come up with some more specific examples of just HOW it's important?

And what kind of understanding of history are you all talking about? Something beyond the general knowledge most people pick up without trying? Is it important to understand the causes of World War I? To know when the Spanish-American War took place, and what it was about? To know when and where guns were invented? What are some examples of important vs. unimportant kinds of history knowledge?
As far as political examples go, I'll use gay marriage here, look at some of the arguments used against it. Male/female relationships are traditional. But traditional in what context? Certainly traditional in the Xtain/western civilization perspective, but some of the greatest educators/philosphers of the ancient world actually scorned male/female relationships in favor of same sex ones. Aristotle comes to mind. If you want to win on any issue, you must not only present a valid argument, but a valid argument that refutes the argument of your opponent. And in most issues, decisions are made based on precident, if your opponent's precident is faulty, you won't know it to be faulty if you don't know your history.

Speaking of precident, what do you think the court system uses?

Another example is empowerment of oppressed peoples. Without an understanding of AA history and their accomplishments, the white traditional history continues to be accepted as the norm and racism is perpetuated intellectually. Same with women, Cleopatra is basically portrayed as a power hungry slut, but she was actually a political genius who was just overpowered. She was a blight on the Roman Empire's history, and the best way to discredit any woman is to re-write her actions and label her a slut. Three of the biggest threats to the Roman Empire were women, Boudica, Xenobia, and Cleopatra.

How about science? Isn't evolution the history of living things and how they change over time? ANY laboratory study invloves history, what changed over time to the end result. In fact I would say that history is the ONLY subject that can be universally applied to almost all other subjects.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lillian J View Post
Anthropology is the study of human beings, past and present - much more closely related to sociology.

I vividly recall when I stumbled across the anthropology section in my college bookstore, was absolutely stunned to realize that people actually get to major in it and study all that stuff in the process - and went to the office that day to change my major from art to anthropology. Lillian


Lillian, archaeology as you know, is a sub field of anthropolgy. I majored once upon a time in anthropology and I was NEVER involved in a dig that didn't have a plain old historian on the team.

I cannot imagine NOT teaching my DC history. EVERYTHING in our lives is affected by what came before, EVERYTHING. We didn't just spontaneously appear, it all didn't start yesterday. No one has to be an expert, but simply ignoring the subject is cutting off your nose to spite your own face.
post #49 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by lauracd View Post
I would say it is not only important it is imperative.
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Originally Posted by famousmockngbrd View Post
What else is there, besides history?

One of the truly unfortunate experiences of my public school career was the shoddy attention to history. I think being well versed in history is a very powerful thing.
post #50 of 170
This is fascinating!

My gut is to say, yes, history is imperative and everyone needs to learn it.

But then I question.....learn what? What aspects of history? How can anyone know all of history? I am still learning history all the time, so obviously I've lived until now without the piece I just learned Was it "necessary" for me to understand if I lived so long without understanding?

I guess my position is this--history is incredibly important, and I want my dc to learn to understand its importance. So, I don't necessarily want them to understand a specific set of facts, or specific periods of history. Rather, I want them to know that they can not truly understand anything without understanding its history. So if they are interested in a topic, or a current event, or a skill (woodworking! ), it would be a really good idea to understand the history of it.

History helps us understand how little we know, and inspires us to positive change. History enriches our understanding of the present, and that understanding impacts the future.
post #51 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
Almost everyone picks up a general familiarity with a lot of major historical events from conversation, books, movies, etc. Is that enough, or is it important to study the subject more systematically or in greater depth?
I think that you hit the nail on the head with this one. I think that most people in this country have only a superficial, pop-culture knowledge of history, and therefore, they have a superficial, pop-culture understanding of what's going on today. I think that lack of understanding is one of the big reasons that people don't participate in government (VOTE!) in larger numbers. People say that they are disenfranchised and alienated by a system that doesn't represent them. Yes, if you know little or nothing about what's going on, you probably will feel disenfranchised and alienated. I am the farthest thing you will ever find from a rah-rah American, and that's a big part of the reason that I think it's HUGELY important to understand why and how we got where we are and to have some understanding of where and why we are going and how we can get there. If people don't think it's important to know what came before, there is a greater chance that they won't think it's important to worry about where we are going and to be a part of that process.

dm
post #52 of 170
Awesome thread. Awesome.

The history geek in me is weeping to read such a fantastic thread.
post #53 of 170
I think that history is not only a very important subject, it is the subject that everything else centers around.
post #54 of 170
I am a history fanatic. I really don't know what else to add as so many excellent points have been covered.

Uncovering amazing tidbits of history has definitely altered my view of the world and my place in it. I love seeing that there are no new fights that history has not addressed in some manner of another.
I suppose what irks me is that a false perception of history (in the masses) can lead the majority to follow actions based on that falsehood. I suppose it doesn't matter to some people, agenda is agenda, however come by...but still, I've got this thing about knowing accurate facts...
post #55 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by dharmamama View Post
I think that you hit the nail on the head with this one. I think that most people in this country have only a superficial, pop-culture knowledge of history, and therefore, they have a superficial, pop-culture understanding of what's going on today. I think that lack of understanding is one of the big reasons that people don't participate in government (VOTE!) in larger numbers. People say that they are disenfranchised and alienated by a system that doesn't represent them. Yes, if you know little or nothing about what's going on, you probably will feel disenfranchised and alienated. I am the farthest thing you will ever find from a rah-rah American, and that's a big part of the reason that I think it's HUGELY important to understand why and how we got where we are and to have some understanding of where and why we are going and how we can get there. If people don't think it's important to know what came before, there is a greater chance that they won't think it's important to worry about where we are going and to be a part of that process.

dm
awesome. I agree entirely.
post #56 of 170
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunnmama View Post
I guess my position is this--history is incredibly important, and I want my dc to learn to understand its importance. So, I don't necessarily want them to understand a specific set of facts, or specific periods of history. Rather, I want them to know that they can not truly understand anything without understanding its history.
This seems like a really good summary of what I THINK a lot of people here are saying. Is this enough for most of you? Is it enough to have this kind of attitude toward history, along with a general sense of what happened when, and the understanding that a lot of popular ideas about historical events are not entirely accurate? Or maybe all that PLUS having actually researched a few historical events or periods enough to get beyond the pop-culture, children's textbook version of what happened? I think that's actually about what I want for my kids (though they don't have to think history is "incredibly important" - "pretty important" would be more in line with my own feelings.)

I think maybe at least some of you are saying that's not quite enough, you also ought to accumulate a fair amount of detailed knowledge about what happened when - more than you're likely to pick up through random reading. And make sure there are no major gaps in what you know. Am I right? That accumulation of detailed knowledge, without gaps, is what feels particularly unnecessary to me, so I'm particularly interested in arguments for why it's not.
post #57 of 170
What do you mean by "learn history" exactly?

I love to read about history, specifically English history, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. I find it utterly fascinating. And depressing at times.
post #58 of 170
I have not read all replies yet, but I have to say for me I believe that those who don't know history are bound to repeat it. Learning where we come from is an important step in moving forward. We seem to realize that personal history shapes who we are as people, the same is true for nations, the past shapes what it is now, jsut as now shaes tomorrow. Without a full understanding of how we got to this point we may try to have a different future but have nothing of substance to base our changes on.
post #59 of 170
Quote:
EVERYTHING in our lives is affected by what came before, EVERYTHING. We didn't just spontaneously appear, it all didn't start yesterday.
And that's true even on the personal level. Our family histories are so much a part of us, whether we want to acknowledge that or not. They permeate our very body cells, and they also permeate our psychological, social, and emotional makeup to some extent, however small. -Lillian
post #60 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
Who cares what they thought? We should decide what WE think makes sense now, and not worry about whether or not it's exactly what one group of people had in mind back in the 1700's. (Feel free to tell me I'm dead wrong about this, as long as you explain exactly why.)
I don't know if this answer will have the level of exactitude you're looking for, but I am highly skeptical of our ability to determine "what makes sense" if we cut ourselves off from the rest of our culture (including our historical culture). What standards or parameters will we use to establish "what makes sense"? Some of your previous examples (I'm thinking of the midwife one) would suggest a statistical analysis of outcomes. I lack the faith in this kind of science to be able to accept that our decisions today can be made on such bases.

Let's take nutrition, which has a history, even if it's not history. We can make decisions about what food is good for us on the basis of contemporary science, or we can consult tradition (full disclosure: I'm a TF junkie). It doesn't take much to see the many ways in which contemporary nutritional science is flawed. So many people find themselves looking to what worked in the past for answers. Now, I may be misunderstanding how we would establish what "makes sense" today as far as nutritional decisions go, but I for one feel better being able to consult the wisdom of past human experience on this and many other topics.

People who care what the framers of the Constitution had in mind often do so because they see it as a systemic set of ideas; pro-gun ownership folk, for example, would argue that without the means to defend oneself one cannot really be said to have the set of rights described elsewhere in the Constitution. (I'm not trying to advocate one position or another; I'm just trying to explain what I see as the reasoning behind such a position). You can argue about this interpretation, but at that point we're having a historical argument. Or you can suggest that we establish what makes sense of the basis of a very recent set of data (recent enough not to qualify as historical, in other words), but that still leaves open questions of how to define that data, what kinds of standards to subject it to, what kinds of complexities we will and will not enter into in our discussion of that data, how to persuade people who disagree with us about all of the above, and so forth. I'm not saying it would be impossible to answer these questions without the use of history, but it would be sufficiently difficult that I think the burden of proof would shift (i.e., someone wanting to do this would have to defend why he or she is not consulting history).

Like many pp's, I'm having problems relating to this question. We don't need most forms of learning. An individual could survive with a very superficial understanding of history; I see people in my classes doing this all the time. I wouldn't insist on other people teaching their children history, and I'm opposed to compulsory education, so I guess I could say I don't see its need in schools. But I want my kids to learn enough of it to be able to have a historical sense, and I would make decisions about who to trust with certain tasks (like governing the country) on the basis of such knowledge.

Finally--Orwell--any takers?
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