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The Purpose of Knowing History for Teens

It has often been determined that teenagers donít know much about history. CommonCore, a research institution in Washington DC found that teens as old as 17 didnít know who Hitler was, couldnít identify the Constitution or Amendments and didnít know who the enemy was in World War II. Just recently, it was discovered that many young people didn't know that the Titanic was an ACTUAL ship that perished in 1912.

CommonCore asserts that because No Child Left Behind (the controversial law President Bush put into effect to improve public schools by frequent testing) doesnít mandate testing in history or the other humanities, schools arenít focusing on it and kids arenít learning it. This may be part of the problem, but I think there is more to it than that.

Now, I remember hating history class for one reason alone Ė I didn't like to memorize. Names. Dates. Places. Who cares! In a lot of ways, these trivial facts are unimportant. When was the American Revolution? Where was it? Who fought in it? These are facts that most history courses focus on.

The dates and name are littered in the texts, the lectures, the quizzes, the exams. In the end, is it really all that important to know the exact date of when the first gunshot was fired? Who was the first person killed? Or is it more important to understand WHY the American Revolution was fought. In many history texts, this is left as a subtle afterthought. There is a lot of focus on memorization.

And this is where, I believe, we lose a teenís interest.

It wasnít until I started reading on my own and exploring history on my own that I realized that the when, where, and who were so much less important than the WHY. And also the WHAT NEXT. What was next after the American Revolution? How did it change America and what did that mean? This is the real purpose of history. To help us to understand why we do what we do now and, when we face situations like we did in the past, how we can do it better.
The American Revolution was fought because the people did not want ďtaxation without representationĒ in other words to have to pay money to a government (in this case, the English Monarchy) in which they had no say and that they felt was too far away and didnít care about them.

When we understand that and not just remember facts like ďthe Boston Tea PartyĒ or that Crispus Attucks was the first person to fall in the war, it helps us to understand why we have taxes in our country now and why people get so angry about them. Or why people feel so upset about our government feeling so big and far away.

And if we understand history further, beyond our own countryís boundaries and into Europe we can understand that the American Revolution was actually inspired by the French Revolution and new thinkers (people from what is called the Enlightenment which is another term you will probably have to memorize but which, overall, means nothing if you donít understand the WHY and the WHAT NEXT).

These thinkers were writing and saying things that had not been said for hundreds upon hundreds of years (since ancient Greece). They were saying that people should be able to rule themselves, have a say in government, not be ruled by Kings or Dictators. People were dying for saying these things because Kings and Dictators didn't really want to give up their power to the people they ruled.

But these things had been said before in Ancient Greece which had Democracy way before America. And if we understand these things and that Democracy has been tried before in several places and several times, we can better understand that it isn't perfect and that we can learn from our mistakes and work to improve our government.

We can learn that perhaps democracy for one country looks different than for another country. And perhaps, instead of having wars like the American Revolution, the French Revolution and even the Iraq War we can just remember some of the things human beings have already tried over the years we have been on this planet and work from there.

That is history. And that is what teens deserve to know.

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