Talking Movies

October 1, 2019

The one thing we can learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

Reading today about the decision to somewhat save history in Irish secondary schools was profoundly dispiriting. The arguments for history, and against history, and the underpinnings of both seemed to indicate a general idiocy.

As far as I can see from the op-ed in the Irish Independent by the Minister we ought to study history in schools to remind ourselves of how awful Ireland was in the 1950s and praise ourselves constantly for being such fine fellows in contrast. The Magdalene Laundries, the poor treatment of tinkers, gays and atheists. These all prove that people in the past were awful, and we are great. Five stars all around for being such great guys now. One might suggest that perhaps one of the most important benefits of studying history is the attempt to escape from the greatest of all mental traps – present bias.

As far as I can see from the marketing speak originating from the masters of curricula we ought not study history in schools because there are more exciting things we can surf in and out of and the purpose of education is to only do fun things. One could substitute maths or English for their dismissal of history and it would make little difference to the argument. After all, can one argue that students really enjoy maths? And with calculators and the internet who needs to learn these skills which are not transferable and of no real use in the real world outside the ivory towers of academia.

Meanwhile the Irish Times featured students decrying exams for the Leaving Certificate as being injurious to mental health and well-being. Well, yes, that’s sort of the point. Life is in general not just a succession of fun things with no crunch moments. One of the benefits of actually studying history is grappling with other civilisations and understanding that not everybody is always on the same page. If we throw out the traditional methods of education that does not mean China will follow suit, and the Confucian model of scholarship will take no prisoners of a generation educated to express themselves in bite-size opinions, scattershot samplings and stress-free study.

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