It never ceases to amaze the lack of knowledge rampant in our modern-day society of noteworthy moments in world history. In addition, the numbing to a person’s ignorance of their own national history. It’s glaring to say the least, especially given the amount of tax dollars spent on education in contemporary Western societies. By no means is it necessary to remember every date and deed. However one would think that a rudimentary understanding of past global events would be natural. After all, if history is the identity of life, then what does it mean to have no inkling of it?
In June of 2014, Historica Canada commissioned Ipsos Reid to do a poll asking Canadians about Canadian history. Some 28% of Canadians couldn’t identify 1867 as the year of Canada’s Confederation. Similarly, the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that only 18% of Grade 8 level US students performed at or above a proficient level in American history. These numbers demonstrate a clear problem with teaching history in the classroom and have implications for society at large.
When a significant portion of the population has no clue of world events, let alone a basic understanding of their country’s own history, it leaves an opening for demagoguery to slip through the door. Like herded sheep they can be led astray not knowing whence they come and whither they go. If history is a foundation upon which to stand, then without it there can be no stand. Without it, we stumble ghostly through the darkness not knowing what to expect. Even worse, not caring what to expect.
Historian and writer Lord Acton (1834-1902) prominently noted that “History is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul.”
To his point, it’s the awareness of days bygone that give light to those that are yet to appear. The future lays buried within the pages of past events, but we must not only be willing to open them, we must actually read them (see Books, Books and More Books…). When we don’t, we do so at our own peril.
It’s incumbent upon our citizenship to know who we are, and to know who and what went before. The type of car we drive or phone we use does not alone define our identity. It’s also captivated by those who brought us here. To not pay homage to them is to discard their sacrifice and hard work. There can be no greater insult to our ancestors than this.
We’re fools to think that the past is the past and that it no longer matters. For those who are pupils of history, the repetition couldn’t be clearer. Empires, nations and civilizations come and go as the seasons follow one another. We are but specks in an ever winding stream of time forging its path through the future. So wouldn’t it be helpful to at least grasp an iota of what has come before?
Perhaps Uruguayan journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) said it best when he discreetly cautioned, “History never really says goodbye. History says ‘See you later.’”
And it’s the ‘see you later’ part that’s leaves one uneasily thinking of what’s yet to come…
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