Why History Matters David M. Shribman's History Teachers Explain What Makes the Subject So Essential

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Why History Matters David M. Shribman's History Teachers Explain What Makes the Subject So Essential


From CHARLES F. KIMBALL (who taught the 11th grade history course I took in high school)

American society today is more concerned with economic success than helping young people have a meaningful and rewarding life. Thus the study of history and the liberal arts more generally seem to have diminished in importance over the last few decades.

History was and is an excellent major in college. It assists students in improving their ability to think, analyze and reason in a complex society. Understanding the world both yesterday and today is excellent background for graduate programs and for life. It's ideal if the study of history is combined with other areas, such as literature and economics.

But overall students should look beyond just financial considerations when choosing their lives' paths. A lot of people will find at age 45 or 50 that they are not fulfilled in their careers and still have 15 or so years until retirement. Finding a fulfilling life is far superior to finding a financially remunerative one.

From SANDERS H. STEPHEN (who taught the 10th grade history course I took in high school)

When I entered Brown in the '50s, I did so with great apprehension but also a clear goal of taking liberal arts courses, because my interest was in learning about the past and about great literature. My choice of a major had little or nothing to do with my future, because I had not a clue about the future. Thus what I took was determined by the liberal arts program and my interest in learning more about history. I was not motivated about going to work in some obscure field. I knew I liked history and wanted to learn all I could about it. No other focus.

That appears unlikely with most students today, as convulsed as we are with things technological and money-making. Thus the future is to be made by inquiry into a myriad of new fields. The reverence I had for great historians was certainly encouraged by the press of that day who interviewed frequently men and I mean men- no women - who explained the events of the day in light of the recent past or in some cases of course not so recent to show why we had arrived at this position in the world. Thus all things could be explained, to some degree or another, by looking at how we got to where we were. I see fewer and fewer references to people of letters today and more and more to people of the industrial, tech world. It is clear to me that the mass of people in the United States, for example, have not learned much from the past. Thus the present view of the world comes from popular TV stars, people of the entertainment world, and what has gone before is in danger of being lost to the more "exciting" world. So while the play "Hamilton" clearly gives one hope that all is not lost, the election of Donald Trump and his apparent ignorance is never the issue for many. He himself says that imagine a few years hence when we will have to go back to a dull person being president and is it not more exciting with him. Callousness be damned I guess. Lies are so frequent that when the government speaks the truth it makes it so refreshing that I am frightened literally that we as a people will never truly be able to separate the two. Or is it that we like the idea of alternative facts. I have my power back as of Friday and so all is right with my world. But age does things to one that is sometimes, or is it always, unexpected. One thing I know is that as I age, I find life to be more and more captivating. I cannot get enough of it. That may have always been true but I do find myself appreciating little things more and more that I may have once taken for granted. …

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