We Need to Make Historical Education a Lifetime Priority
Our historical ignorance and amnesia run deep, preventing us from building the future we want — and deserve.
I remember staring out the window of my grade 11 ancient history class at a pale blue sky and thinking about Hammurabi. That was the year I was introduced to the Babylonian Empire and the ID and significance exam. The test question would ask the student to identify a concept, event, or historical figure and explain why it or they were significant to to the past and, if applicable, the present.
I got so good at these questions that to this day it’s how I collect and sort new information. ID and significance is an effective framework — and a good way to meet and greet unfamiliar stuff. I loved using it then and I love using it now. It didn’t hurt that I couldn’t get enough of the subject matter, and still can’t.
The thing about becoming infatuated with history in grade 11 is that if you’re even moderately lucky, you have time to go all-in on it. I worked a weekend gig at my grandfather’s tire shop and played sports, but otherwise I had a lot of free time. The hours that belonged to me, unspoken for by the calendar, were hours for deep dives into whatever history book or television program or documentary I could find. This was a time prior to iPhones and social media, to distractions that hold the promise of infinite stores of information at your finger tips and break that promise as fast as you can default to doomscrolling.
Being able to collect information, identify it, and state its historical and contemporary significance is the price of admission to historical education, but it’s not the end of the show. The next step is being able to sort through, evaluate, and contrast competing narratives, claims, arguments, and theories. Beyond that, a deeper historical education asks one to arrive at their own evidence-based conclusions and, where applicable, to draw conclusions about the past, make judgments about the present, and offer suggestions for the future.
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