Facing up to history
Every country has a shameful history. Just like a child growing and evolving into an intelligent adult, a country goes through an infancy and adolescence, undoubtedly making mistakes along the way. Like a child, the only harm comes in not learning from our mistakes.
R.G Collingwood stated that “Nothing capable of being memorized is history” inferring that events are of much less consequence than their causes. Of course, this is bound to upset most high school history teachers as helping students to memorize names, places and dates is much easier than admitting that no two peoples’ view of the past is going to be the same. Most historians agree however that history is fluid, re-written constantly according to present-day views and perspectives.
Understanding this, in turn leads us to gain an understanding of the actions of the people in our past. We can learn to consider that people may have been driven by ideals, perspectives and unseen events that created a much different situation to any that we can realistically imagine today. If we focus on accomplishments and not on the path that took us there, we risk understanding the compromises and sacrifices that have been made to enable the achievement. Likewise, if we focus only on the sacrifices we are unable to know if they were worth the gains made.
Australia’s former Prime Minister, John Howard, was keen on a revision of the History curriculum being taught in Australian schools. He feared that students were increasingly being taught a “black arm-band” history that neglected to address Australia’s many fine accomplishments and traditions. While it is easy to see his point of view, one must consider the equal damage committed by taking the opposite approach and looking at history through “rose-colored glasses”. Here Collingwood’s thoughts take on greater significance as history cannot be considered a black or rose-colored subject.
Reminding an adolescent of its child’s behavior invariably causes anger or embarrassment but also serves to help that adolescent see how far they have come and to consider the type of person they’d like to be in the future. History can serve the same purpose, helping communities to decide how they would like to evolve, what actions are required for them to be creating a history of which they will feel proud.
Just as we would not expect an adult to feel ashamed of their childhood bed-wetting, neither should we expect a country or its people to feel shame over its past. Providing history has been used as a learning tool and the same mistakes are not being repeated, we should all be able to address our histories objectively and non-emotionally. As long as we take our history personally, viewing some events and actions as good or shameful we cannot open ourselves to the lessons that history provides. When we hide our past from our neighbors, we don’t get to learn from each others’ mistakes.
Tags: History , Culture , Education , Future , Past
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