The Roman historian Livy wrote: “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.” Since Livy, many figures such as Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, and George Santayana to name a few have debated the merits of history.
At first glance, I reject Livy’s assessment of the study of history. Unlike the sciences, the study of history is never certain (which record?, whose record?) and often evolves as newer and newer sources are found and/or perhaps emphasized. To be a student of history is NOT to determine the outcome or final analysis of what was, but to evaluate how human interactions and decision making have shaped or altered the state of affairs. Essentially the actions of the present must use history to help pave the way for a better future. To Livy’s point we certainly can use history to be “both examples and warnings” but a true student of history concludes with evidence accumulated over the years in order to analyze the past with the important caveat that the conclusion may be limited and even wrong as new evidence emerges. History is gray, never white or black.
Framing the American Constitution and Establishing a new government (1776 – 1791) (from the Declaration of Independence to the ratification of the Bill of Rights). Given the time we live in, the study of the resurgence of democracy as a viable system of government has its revitalization through the principles designed and framed in the American system of government. By 1920, there were 15 democracies around the world; today there are over 120 democracies. Despite the variations of what a democracy may look like in different nations, the notion that the people ought to govern themselves and that governments must be limited by the people has changed world history dramatically. Because democracy is the least predictable and the least secure system, it is essential that all peoples must have a basic understanding of their government in order to govern. When the people do not have that knowledge, democracy is at risk.
If my decision was based primarily on what’s best for education, I would say no test or at least limited testing (not the overwhelming emphasis on testing as a be all in determining education assessment). Because we have limited testing (nationally at least) to only ELA and Math (MA includes science and technology), we have relegated other subjects to a secondary status that has resulted in reducing opportunities for students to learn other equally important knowledge and skills in other important areas of study. In particular, elementary schools have diminished the study of history, in some cases eliminating the study completely from assessment. If you read my statement in question 2, you’ll see how negatively this will cripple our nation as the next generation will have nothing but their own reason and self-interest in determining what the government should or should not do. To avoid this terrible outcome, we can only do this by supporting a test in History, simply to give our future a chance to survive within our constitutional democracy.