Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Why Understanding History Matters

February 12, 2020 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

The Jan. 8 article, “Sure, We Teach History. But Do We Know Why It’s Important?” (Big Ideas special report), noted that 78 percent of educators surveyed believe the primary purpose of teaching history is “to prepare students to be active and informed citizens.” The article also said that understanding the present in historical context can help us “decide on the best course of action ahead.”

I would like to thank the author of this article, which focused on Japanese-Americans forced into prison camps after Pearl Harbor and the decades-later response from President Ronald Reagan and other Americans. History provides a foundation for action and affects how people perceive—and respond—to present-day horrors. All educators should take note.

In 2019, I traveled to Poland for a study tour of the Jewish Holocaust, which showed how far hate can go if left unchecked. My experience of the study tour reinforced the meaning of the Jewish rallying cry “never again.”

Hate crimes are increasing. The Anti-Defamation League found that 2018 saw a 99 percent increase in reported anti-Semitic acts in the United States since 2015, and the third-highest number since the 1970s.

These troubling numbers come against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis at the southern border, where refugees are being separated from families and detained against their will.

The Holocaust provides a unique example for us to learn from our past. When Jews said, “never again,” they meant for all humans, including the Japanese-Americans forced into prison camps.

Decades later, similar human-rights violations are happening on our own soil. What will it take for people to act? A thorough understanding of history, for starters.

When teaching history, educators must help students connect the past and present. History teaches, but only if it is taught. Learn. Reflect. Care. Act. This is what it means to live in a democracy where history matters.

Renée A. Middleton

Dean

The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education

Ohio University

Athens, Ohio

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 2020 edition of Education Week as Why Understanding History Matters


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)