Why Study History?


I steal and borrow a lot–like, a whole lot! For those of you that don’t already know me you’ll quickly come to realize that many of my own thoughts and ideas on teaching have originated with others. You see, I’m not too proud to beg, borrow and steal when it comes to teaching. When I see something good being done in a social studies class I often try to find ways to incorporate it into my own teaching–hence this blog and podcast series! For years, most of what I used as inspiration came from one of my colleagues–Brad Creswell & this is an example of one of those activities I’ve taken from Brad.

Very near the beginning of each school year, Brad and I both pose the same question to our new students–“Should we study history in schools or is it just a waste of time?” Now, I know what you might be thinking–this question might be a waste of time since many of the students will answer the way they think we want them to answer–however, this isn’t the case! Year in and year out, our students have answered this question honestly and have sparked some great debate and discussion in our classes. Additionally, it also gives me a great opportunity to share some of my own thoughts and ideas as to why we should be studying history in our schools & I’d like to take some time to explain them here.

Personally, my journey towards being a social studies teacher was never a forgone conclusion. In fact, I was convinced I was going to graduate from high school and become an engineer for quite some time (there was something about the clean lines and finality of a completed math problem that made me feel really good). I was so convinced that I was going to go into the mathematics field, I even applied for & won an award for future math teachers when I graduated high school (still kind of feel guilt about that one–sorry Mrs. Frankenfield). That said, my love for history was still present & growing.

“History Well-Told is Beautiful”

If you do a quick Google search about the reasons you should study history you’ll probably land on a post from the American Historical Association to provides six reasons for why all people should study history. We’ll talk about each of these reasons, however, none resonates with me more-so than the last–“history well-told is beautiful.” For as long as I can remember I have always loved the story-telling aspect of history. Whether it was my dad talking about his high school days, my grandfather discussing growing up in the coal regions of Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, or hearing how my other grandfather traveled the world playing baseball for his US Army base’s baseball team, I have always loved to hear about the human experience.

This makes sense if you think about it, by nature, humans are drawn to a good story–it’s part of who we are, and this become abundantly clear to me when I was a senior in high school. One of the colleges I was looking into while I was a senior was Gettysburg College–it was kind of close to home but not too close, I had a few friends there & it was a Division III wrestling school so I could wrestle there. After taking a tour of the school and meeting the coaches, my dad convinced me (against my will) to visit the battlefield for a brief moment. This “mandatory family fun” that my dad forced upon me ended up drastically altering my life.

My dad convinced me that we should just make one quick stop on the battlefield since we were there and it was so historic. He suggested that we venture up the old Gettysburg National Tower along Slocum Avenue since we’d be able to see so much of the battlefield from one spot. Again, against my will my dad convinced me to pick up some of the headphones they had there and listen to the descriptions of the events that took place on those fateful July days in 1763. And that’s when it happened–that’s when I fell in love with the story of history.

As I stood in the tower, listening to some historian recount the events of the battle at each location, I could almost see it happening in my head. I hate to sound hyperbolic, but it was almost as if I was able to travel through time to watch the battle from above. The tower is long gone (it was taken down in 2000), but my love for the storytelling in history remained, and that love would eventually help me make the change from a Math Education major to a Social Studies Education major at the end of my freshman year of college.

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