A death sentence for creativity and curiosity

I have taken countless history classes throughout my education in both Canada and the United States. The only common theme between these classes was that they focused on a very shallow understanding of the past. While I do not disagree that events are important to learn, I do not think that this is where our history education should end.

In the past year I have begun to delve deeper into the history that was left out of my history classes – the Cambodian Genocide, the Colonial Caribbean, Che Guevara, Augusto Pinochet, Roman history that doesn’t revolve around Julius Caesar, and so on.

I have noticed that in our North American history classes, we are often given one view of the world. I have found that we are deprived from automatically learning most of what there is to know in history.

I am not saying that we should teach the Cambodian Genocide or the cruel acts of Stalin to kindergartners, but major moments in history should be common knowledge by the time they are adults.

There are many fatal flaws of history classes today that, when combined, kills instead of fosters curiosity, exposure, culture, creativity, critical thinking and a dynamic perspective of the world. Schools have decided that knowing that _________ happened on _________ date is more important than actually understanding why  _________ happened, or what then happened during _________.

It is a lot harder for teachers to mark a wordy analysis, rather than the year the Khmer Rogue came to power, or the right date’s of Pol Pot’s regime. It may be faster and easier, but this teaching method stops children from being able to develop critical thought. To simplify history to dates and names is to tell children that the world is black and white, and that there is one simple answer to every question.

This way of teaching history also closes off students from really learning about other cultures. It creates a Western-centric view of the world, because it is Westerners that wrote the history books in the first place. When you are taught to look at everything only through a privileged, uncultured lens, it is harder to be more creative, insightful and thoughtful by challenging this narrative. Add a simplification of right and wrong, and this becomes even more impossible.

When I was in Grade 6, my teacher had asked my class of 12 to each make a presentation about Adolph Hitler, and genocide. With an early love of history, I was excited about this project. I really wanted to do my best on it, so I signed up to present last. As the presentation days rolled around, we sat through presentation after presentation that simply outlined Hitler’s rule and some slides using Webster’s dictionary definition about what genocide is.

As it got closer to my turn, I got nervous that I hadn’t done the project correctly as I had looked at Hitler not by his actions, but by comparing him to Stalin and Mao. I had examined how history had defined genocide. This reflection is, of course, more academically put than it was when I was in Grade 6, but the lesson stands.

No one thought outside the box. Throughout school we are taught to colour inside the lines. However, thanks to my parents’ encouragement to pursue my own path, I always drew my own picture. When you are taught that there is only one way to look at things, it stunts your potential to understand things in new lights, and the ability to look at the world in a multifaceted way.

School children can be afraid to ask questions or to think critically. Sometimes it is considered weird or geeky to really engage in class, or to enjoy it. Children today are told that 2+2=4, and all Nazis were born horrible people. In math, they memorize the formulas and never really understand why or how it works.

Children aren’t often taught to think about what Germany was like before WWII. A desolate country with extreme poverty, most people who joined the Nazi regime did so in order to support their family and feed their starving children. While all of the original points are correct, and two plus two does equal four, Nazis did do undoubtedly horrible things. But that doesn’t mean we need to take the information at face value. That doesn’t mean our education has to stop there.

Younger generations need to be taught to push the boundaries on what is commonly believed and discover what they think about information presented to them.

By Jessica Patterson

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.