Why History Failed to Teach Us

Iman Baber

History is not a two-dimensional oil painting imprinted in the mind of every student. It’s a complicated, intricate machine. You simply cannot learn how it works by scanning the outside. ”

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. George Washington. The Code of Hammurabi. We all probably recognize these all too familiar terms, sprinkled across our memory after years and years of history.

History. This one word evokes an image of a fat textbook and messy scribbles of notes, filled with dates and the Battle of This and the Battle of That. It’s viewed as a dull class students must add to their already hectic schedules. The fact that history has lost its charm, worn away by textbook after textbook, is disappointing for me. Throughout elementary school and junior high, I always had a certain fascination for history. It was just something about learning ancient cultures and traditions that makes me so excited. But now, even my distaste continues to grow for the dreaded subject. Throughout school, we are told by teachers and mentors that we learn history to avoid making the mistakes previous generations made. However, this raised some questions for me. First and foremost, if we, as a society, learn history to prevent mistakes, then why do we keep making the same ones? Why are we not learning anything?

I believe that the answer to this question is largely credited to our mentality facing the subject. Anything along the lines of history is met with the moans and groans of exhausted students. Because all history is to them is lecture atop lecture. They enter and have their brains stuffed with facts, without learning the true importance behind those seemingly empty words. In addition to that, the history taught is only a thread in the tapestry of humanity, restricted and thwarted by the political boundaries of our countries. These boundaries and textbooks only blind us from the true picture. History is not a two-dimensional oil painting imprinted in the mind of every student. It’s a complicated, intricate machine. You simply cannot learn how it works by scanning the outside. What we need to understand is that we need to learn how every gear turns, in order to understand where our society has been and where it is going.

George Santayana, a Spanish-American philosopher, once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Today, the “those who cannot remember the past” translates into our society. Sadly, we see many scars in humanity being cut deeper and deeper year after year. Years after the Civil Rights Movement uprooted America, prejudice and racism still remain deeply planted. There is no pause in the endless warfare which possesses millions of lives. And so, the knife slashes deeper, and deeper still. Instead of letting it heal naturally, society constantly irritates it with hydrogen peroxide and endless stitching, hoping that it will somehow revive itself. But such a painful transition is not one that we can rush or glaze over. Doing so will only tear the stitches just freshly sewn. These scars must be left to heal over time and with care. And this can simply be achieved by learning the why behind history. How those gears turn inside that elaborate machine. Only then will we be able to fix a part if it breaks, without damaging the piece as a whole. This will bring uncountable benefits to the world. Just imagine the possibilities.

If we all understood the whole picture, then it would unify society as a whole. Gradually, society would become more accepting, compassionate, and tolerant. Political boundaries would not matter anymore, and thus our stories would no longer remain victims of cultural thwarting. We will be able to steer society from the drowning depths into refreshing, breathable air. Sounds great, right? So let’s make it happen. The last piece of the puzzle. We need to know that WE are the authors of the next history textbooks. The pages are right in front of our faces, blank and new, screaming to carry a story. The pen is in our hands. What we write with that pen is up to us. So we need to make a decision, right here, right now. We need to decide what lessons we want future generations to learn. We need to create the world that our children will live in. And that power is in the hands of people like you. It’s entirely up to you how you use it. What do you want to write in that empty textbook?