History is a key subject for lifelong learning. It is the foundation upon which all other academic subjects are built and from which we can learn lessons about what works and what doesn’t. Moreover, all human endeavors require the knowledge of the past in order to fully understand the present and make decisions about the future. Dropping the subject in schools only increases rootlessness among young people.
When students learn the subject well, they acquire the ability to assess how a problem has been resolved in the past and what other problems have arisen from the same issue. They also gain an appreciation of the high cost of making bad decisions and the benefits of good ones.
Unlike other subjects such as math or English, History can be perceived as boring and irrelevant by some critics. However, those who make this assertion may have been taught in a style that de-personalizes the subject by treating it like a compilation of dates, often only relevant to their national history. By contrast, students who learn the subject through a variety of approaches are often excited about it and able to take an active role in its development.
Students who learn to love history are often fascinated by its diversity. The study of History can include times of peace, war, natural disasters and revolutions -all events that have the potential to inspire or depress humans. This range of experiences gives children a richer perspective of humanity and provides valuable insights into what makes us human, and which aspects of humanity we want to keep and which we would like to discard.
Some historians focus on individual people whose ideas, actions and beliefs are the driving forces of historical change. Others adopt a more thematic approach, looking at the ‘winds of change’ that have created significant changes over time. These are the powerful ideas, discoveries and events that have served as ‘flashpoints’ for political, social and economic change in societies throughout history.
Many students enjoy learning history because of the evocative nature of its sources. For example, primary sources such as letters, diaries, maps and interviews offer a glimpse into the lives of the people for whom history was written. These sources humanize history, allowing students to touch the emotions and see the values of the times. Reading a series of public opinion surveys from World War II, for instance, will give students a feel for the tensions and anxieties that shaped the attitudes of the era’s inhabitants.
Students should also be encouraged to make the most of the resources that are available to them, particularly in museums and other heritage sites. These places can provide students with a more vivid experience of the past and help them to place events and periods of history in their context, both locally and globally. This helps them to see how they can make a difference to the future, while also recognizing that it was a long journey for humanity to reach the point where we are today.