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Anthony Kayruz

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A Defense of History

Posted: 08/15/2012 9:20 am

In many modern American schools, there is an inherent push for the maths and sciences. Much educational funding goes towards these subject areas, while others -- such as fine arts and the humanities -- are progressively given the short end of the stick. Some students meander through the hallways already knowing their purpose in life: to become doctors, engineers or pharmacists, to go to medical school, to take research jobs, to excel in math and to study science. The divergence between the sciences and the humanities has caused many to look down upon the latter, deeming it impractical and useless in a world dominated by numbers and technology. However, the importance of liberal arts cannot be overlooked, and the overarching significance of one of the core components of the humanities -- history -- cannot afford to be forgotten.

When one discusses studying history in his or her future, the snide comment that often ensues is, "Do you plan to teach it?" Whereas a degree in a science and a stint in medical school is thought to open up numerous pathways to success, wealth and happiness, history is thought to only be an option for aspiring teachers with an inflexible income. Naysayers believe that history is a merely a story, nothing more, and its worth should be judged accordingly. Sadly, these narrow-minded views overshadow the practicality and the necessity of comprehending the past in a modern society that is deprived of true historical scholars, especially in the realm of politics and decision-making.

Renowned essayist and self-proclaimed proponent of naturalism George Santayana uttered the following famous phrase: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Although the words seem cliché and many have read them numerous times, their truth, unfortunately, is consistently disregarded. Politicians continue to reattempt failed policies -- in particular those pertaining to the economy -- because they either refuse or are unaware of the glaring advantages of historical hindsight to pinpoint what does and does not work.

These benefits have numerous associations in the past, as seen in the 1960s civil rights movement, spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King, a prominent social reformer and human rights activist, did not develop his concept of civil disobedience independently. He evaluated the historical successes and failures of previous African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and Stokely Carmichael. King understood that Du Bois's unbending requests were too obstinate, Carmichael's harsh methods of insurrection and rebellion were too radical and Washington's policies of relaxed complacency were too stagnant to lead to major change. By recalling the errors of his revolutionary brethren, Martin Luther King was able to lead a successful movement that, within 30 years, largely freed the American community of the despicable values of racism and segregation -- successes that would have proved impossible if he had abandoned a historical perspective.

If current government officials would adopt the strategies of King, momentarily forget about the present, and look towards the past, they would understand how to shape effective policies that benefit the entire nation. If they remembered how the Vietnam War crippled the effectiveness of President Lyndon Johnson's national programs, maybe they would not attempt to attack both foreign and domestic issues with full force. If they remembered how George Washington advised America to stay neutral in international affairs and refrain from alliances, maybe there would not be so much hatred, terrorism and adversity around the world. If they recalled history in general, maybe America could regain its efficient edge, turn around its economy and forever retain its status as the greatest state on earth.

By simply delegating due worth to history and protecting its integrity among the widespread focus on math and science, our elected leaders can add a sixth sense -- the 20/20 vision of hindsight -- to their political arsenal.

 
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