It bothers me terribly to see American students shun History. What we have done as a society since the 1960s is to ignore reality. History purports to be a compilation of events memorialized to give future generations the tools to avoid the problems of the past, giving societies knowledge necessary to provide better lives for world populations. Ignorance is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “lack of knowledge, education, or awareness,” which American students apparently embrace enthusiastically.
Here is the point. As stated eloquently by Historian Carl G. Gustavson in his brilliant work, A Preface to History, history is much more than names and dates. To be knowledgeable of the modern world, one must develop a “sense of historical mindedness.” Before arriving at conclusions that brand us as ignorant, we must be cognizant of the “driving forces” behind specific events that occur in the present, lest we become like much of the American news media.
What twenty-first century students fail to grasp is acceptance of the reality that the past exists in our present. Society is always changing, and to understand why before we opine requires a study of the social, economic, religious, cultural, technological, political, institutional, military, and other forces that precede historical events.
For example, students that show up for class have at least heard of the famous 1588 sea battle that resulted in the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. That event was the Armageddon of its day and changed the future of world society. Most students think of the event as singular and merely study the date in hopes of passing a test. Then, years later, they feel free to render their opinions about anything from politics to religion, never realizing their own ignorance of the subject matter. If they instead embraced a sense of historical mindedness, they would have looked back at least 300 years to examine the social forces that led to the battle. They would inquire about the European economy spanning three centuries. They would recognize the tremendous pressure employed by religious leaders during the Renaissance Period. They would seek to learn about other social influences that resulted in just the right circumstances to set up the naval conflict. Years later, they would search through historical data before rendering opinions on modern societal issues without the proper foundation for their oftentimes ignorant conclusions, much like the American news media does daily.
I recently had an opportunity to view a TV episode of ESPN’s “30 for 30” about the Duke University lacrosse rape scandal. While I was aware of the outcome, it still shocked my conscience to see how unknowing Americans can be. While the incident has now passed into the category of history, the attitude in our society continues to foster the principles of reckless, false, destructive speech in the name of First Amendment rights. How many sign-carrying disrupters have actually read the Constitution? We all know the answer.
Anyone capable of reading this post should be frightened when thinking of how ignorant masses of people will be responsible for the plight of your grandchildren.
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