In just about a month, students around the world (or at least the northern hemisphere) will be asking their social studies teachers, “why do we have to study history?” Of course there are great answers to that question, it’s just a matter of whether teachers spoon feed students the answers or have them work with the question themselves (I like putting my students in pairs before having the whole class discussion). Though it might be tempting, it’s not really responsible of us to say, “why not/because I said so/because it’s important/etc” and move on. Each year, depending on my students, I have handled that question a little differently.
My very first year teaching I answered it myself, then the next day I had the students come up with their own answers because I thought I had done them such a disservice by only telling them my opinion. Since then I have started incorporating various activities to get the kids thinking about why we should study history (some are linked below), and this year they will make a “why we should study history” bulletin board for our hallway.
I was curious about how other teachers and students responded to the “why study history” question, so I reached out to some of my social studies teacher friends and this is a sample of what we (or our students) have said:
- History helps us see why things are the way they are. There’s still a lot of hate and racism in the world, but if you look back, we’ve come along way. It makes you feel hopeful.
- We should know where we have come from to forge a path to where we want to be. That includes understanding what has worked and not worked so we can continue to improve without backtracking.
- We as a people love stories and history is nothing but stories.
- History is the best reality show ever.
- History can be kind of repetitive. After the Civil War, the north were angry so they punished the south. After WWI the Allies were so angry they punished Germany, who was resentful which definitely contributed to WW2. So, history teaches us about a lot of mistakes that have been made that we should try not to repeat.
- “All we hear about is STEM, What if I don’t want to be an engineer?”
- History isn’t just dates, battles, and documents. It is people who woke up, ate breakfast, worked, had families, and helped us get to where we are today. We will be those people one day and we should be studied and understood too.
- The skills you learn and develop while studying history will be useful in many other parts of your life.
- History answers the question, “why?” Why did Japan invade China, why do we call it a telephone, why do we shoot fireworks on the 4th of July, why did France send the Statue of Liberty to America, why does county A side with country B in a conflict against country C, etc.
- History can teach us about who we are, and maybe even help guide us to who we want to be. April Cullom shares a personal story HERE about taking ownership of one’s history and not letting it get lost as previous generations pass on, click to read about how it moved and challenged her students to do the same.
If you are interested in “why study” history type activities, I’d recommend starting with one of these:
From Education with DocRunning: Why Study History
From History in the Middle: Occupations of the Past
From Gail Hennessey: The Past Shapes Our Present
From History with Mr. E: Why Study History
From Social Studies Success: Why Study History
How do you handle the “why should we study history” question? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
***Special thanks to Sarah Pecorino Illustrations for the image in this post***