Then and Now

Hannah Webb, Staff Writer

My grandma has always loved family histories. She’s into Ancestry.com, and countless other websites and societies that focus on family trees and relations. Besides the family history, she also knows a lot about U.S history in general, and she has a lot of old documents that have been circulated in our family that were created during the different U.S war times, such as the Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2, and the Vietnam War. She has boxes of old letters, newspapers, and other memorabilia dating back ages.

When I was at her house recently over the holiday break, she sat me down and began talking to me about our family’s history and how our history ties in with the history of the United States. As anyone might during this kind of conversation, I kind of nodded along to the things she said, tuning out every once in awhile. I wasn’t really engaging in the conversation, at least until she pulled out one of those boxes of old documents.

This box instantly caught my interest, and as she began pulling yellowed papers out of it, searching for a specific letter, my curiosity grew. Once she finally found the paper she was searching for, she pulled it out and handed to me telling me that it was from around the time Pearl Harbor had happened. Who the author of the letter was in relation to my mother, father, and I was lost on me, but that wasn’t what I focused on.

What caught my interest the most was a single sentence in the letter that talked about the wage gap in the United States at that time. While all the men were off at war, the women were working in the factories and doing the same jobs the men had done before they left, but they were getting paid significantly less to support their families than the men had. This little piece of information didn’t necessarily catch my attention because of what it said, but because the concept wasn’t just an issue then, it’s an issue now as well.

It made me realize that all those times that my history teachers told me history was important because it repeats itself, they weren’t really lying. I’ve never been of the opinion that history shouldn’t be taught in schools, because it’s a subject I’ve always generally enjoyed. For me it’s kind of like a story, and I think it’s interesting to learn about how we all got to where we are today from almost nothing.

Seeing this little piece of repeated information made me realize that besides my liking it, there really is some actual importance behind teaching history in schools. You can say it isn’t important all you want, but if you don’t know what people have done in the past you really will be doomed to repeat it, without even knowing you’re making the same mistakes people in the past have.

For example, how would we know who to vote for if we didn’t learn about history? The success of policies proposed by politicians can partially be guessed at or determined by the way policies in the past have done. Again, it goes back to making the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. If we don’t know what doesn’t worked, we’re doomed to vote people into office who are making the mistakes we’ve made before.

History helps us figure out who we are as people. We learn more about where we toe the line on politics and where our morals and loyalties truly lie when we learn more about the actions of those before us. It can help us realize what we want to accomplish in our lives when we learn about the things others have been able to do.

It’s not just a useless subject that has no relevance to our time period. History’s relevance is especially important today for people our age. We are the people who are getting ready to go into the world and must be ready to function as effective citizens of society. We can’t complain about the state of our nation if we aren’t doing anything to learn about how we can fix it.

As much criticism as I have for the school system, its teaching of history is not on my long and ever-growing list of things that is wrong with education today. Take a real look at what you base your decisions on any number of choices on today. I’d be willing to guess you use some of your past experiences in order to make a choice. The same applies on a larger scale, when learning the past experiences of our country and the world, which is something we all need to consider when we evaluate the quality of our learning in schools.