When I was in my tenth grade history class, I noticed something odd. There was a span of about two weeks or so where we talked about World War Two. We talked about D-Day, Hitler, Mussolini, and so on. We went through the various battles, the two theaters of war (Europe and Pacific), and all the famous leaders of that time. But then when it came time to talk about what came after, we spent literally a day talking about Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. One class period, and that was it. It was then that I started to realize something was amiss with our education system.
And it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the problem was more complicated.
Many people of my age like to criticize our education system for perpetuating a narrow-minded, patriotic worldview. They condemn it for focusing too much on the “good” parts of our history, and glossing over the bad. While this is true in a lot of respects (as with my personal experience above), the problem doesn’t just lie there. Our education system, I feel, isn’t doing a great job preparing students for the real world.
When I look back at what classes were required for us to take in high school, I notice some things. I do feel that high school does a decent job at providing its students with a general knowledge base to work with, but there are some areas that could use some work. For example, I remember taking a high finance class in my freshman year. Basically we talked about things like budgeting, writing checks, managing a checking account, and so on. For someone my age, it was really useful information and advice considering most of us will end up with a checking account because it is almost essential to function in our society. But you know what? I believe that the class was an elective, as in it wasn’t required course material. But really, how many kids are going to take a class called “High Finance”?
What it comes down to is that schools are very good at giving us theoretical knowledge (math formulas, reading comprehension, scientific processes), but they let us down when it comes to things of a more practical nature. Math classes are fine and all, but after a certain point the knowledge becomes useless to all but a very particular group of people. Same with science classes. It might be interesting learning about the different scientific theories and laws, but chances are that unless you’re a science major in college most of this information is going to be fairly useless to you.
And going back to the subject of history, the way we focus our lens of history in high school is really questionable. While its true that we can’t cover all of history with the same attention to detail, we could spend a little less time talking about things like World War Two (WWII). We all know that D-Day happened, and we all know that the Holocaust was a horrific event that should never be forgotten. These are important subjects that deserve covering, but there are other aspects of history that have so much richness to them that we just gloss over.
For starters, there’s World War One (WWI), otherwise known as “the war to end all wars”. I was aware of the existence of WWI, but I never really understand just how earth-shattering it was until my British Literature class in college. The advent of WWI drastically changed the way humans saw the world. It heralded a massive shift in arts and literature. No longer was war a courageous and noble thing. War became ugly and decrepit. War became a nightmare. War became the bane of humanity. In short, war sucks.
But I had to wait until college to learn about this. I barely remembered how we talked about WWI in class, because my memories are overshadowed by the over-saturation of WWII lectures. All I really remember was that WWI was mentioned, and that it started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. It may have been mentioned how brutal it was, but the details were skimmed over in favor of moving on to WWII. And it is there that the critics of my generation are right. The schools do have a tendency to focus more on parts of history that make the United States look favorable.
And even in eras of history where we did horrible things, history classes tend to gloss over them. We talk a lot about the Revolutionary War, but we barely talk about how we treated people who were called “loyalists”, people who favored the cause of the British in the colonies. People like that had their businesses destroyed, their livelihoods ruined. Some were tarred and feathered, then paraded around and made an example out of. The worst part? Tarring and feathering was literally what it sounds like, with hot tar being poured on a person’s body then being rolled around in a pool of feathers which would stick to them. The aftermath was that if a victim tried to remove the tar, a portion of their skin came off with it. Not only that, but their skin would blister and burn, and they were often left susceptible to infection. I never heard that part in school, and I’m betting most of you reading this didn’t either.
That’s the problem. Our education system has such a narrow focus on subject matter that once we get out of high school, we realize that a lot of the information we possess isn’t inherently necessary to function in our modern society. Not only that, but we’re constantly pushed by educators to figure out what we want to do with our lives before we’re even finished with high school. We’re told that it’s important to find the college you want to go to now, and that waiting is bad. You know what? I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or what my major was going to be until the second year of my five-year stint in college.
Waiting isn’t a bad thing. With something like this, its best to take your time and think on it, rather than jumping in headfirst. As the old cliché goes, think before you leap.
This is where our education system needs to change. High school students need more practical knowledge rather than theoretical. They need to be exposed to views besides “America is great and amazing”. There are still plenty of problems in our society even today that could be addressed but aren’t. Progress doesn’t mean ignoring our past sins. Progress means accepting our mistakes, acknowledging and owning them. This is where our education system can change, by providing us not only with practical knowledge but with the knowledge of our faults. We are not perfect. No one is. Accepting that is an integral part of life. Illusions weigh us down, but the truth sets us free. History may be written by the victors, but that doesn’t mean it has to be skewed.
And that’s all for this week. Tune in next Wednesday for a new post as always. Until then, have a great week everyone.