Why Study History?

As a high school history teacher of nearly three decades, this question was asked of me more than any other on the first day of class. I would use this as an initial learning opportunity by turning it back on the students. Why do you think we study history? Usually after a few seconds a few hands would slowly begin to rise. The common responses were "to learn about the past", or "because we have to have the course to graduate". I found this as a great opportunity to engage the students in critical thinking and introduce the course in an interesting light. I would divide the students into groups and have them discuss it. Ultimately, the groups would reveal their findings which allow me to moderate the class discussion and delve deeper for an acceptable answer for the question. Ultimately the class would usually arrive at the consensus that learning about history was important to prevent mistakes of the past and for societies to continue to move forward. Using a PowerPoint presentation that I had designed to introduce the course I could present concrete examples utilizing historical quotes and digital images or videos from the World Wars, JFK assassination or 9/11. It also allowed me to introduce to the students how we would study history and the methods and tools for doing so. If time allowed I might use other short exercises to engage the students in active learning. By the end of this introductory lesson, the students were generally hooked and returned to the next class eager to learn more which allowed a natural transition into our initial unit on early civilizations in World History, or exploration and discovery in American History. Once the students had learned why and how to study history, they began to see the course in a different light and my job as history teacher became so much easier and enjoyable.