April 7, 2023
As Americans, we frequently forget history; after all, our current environment often puts math and science at the forefront of educational priorities. A cursory search of a school ranking organization, like Niche, affirms this fact. Under the "Academics" section, the reading and math proficiency rates stare at the reader in a large numerical font. No history. The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only thirteen percent of high school seniors are historically proficient. If the next generation of American scholars, and eventual leaders, lack a profound understanding of history, the United States is in trouble.
Some might believe that the lack of proficiency is not particularly distressing; they may assert that literacy and math govern the daily lives of most, not those who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Professions often deemed vital to society, like those in engineering, accounting, and medicine, all center around STEM, not history. Others assert, however, that America's lack of emphasis on history is detrimental to our prosperity.
History is vital to an independently questioning population. Author George Orwell knew this all too well; he asserted, "The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." The power of history lies in its relevant lessons. When judges must decide rulings, they often rely upon precedent or the history of law. If history is robust enough for law, the same must be for other aspects of society.
Economists use history to determine what decisions lead economies out of recessions; just look at the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes today, inspired by the successful "soft landing" of the mid 1990s. Furthermore, politicians use history to understand current events. For instance, an understanding of the havoc involving the world's past with weapons of mass destruction most definitely drove the de-escalation of the Cold War by reducing warheads.
Even if one does not become a politician or economist, their votes decide them. An educated voter must recognize past administrations' failures and successes, and policies to determine the best way forward for the nation. Even before you consider how to vote, without understanding how challenged that right used to be, one might fail to fight against today's threats to voting, like gerrymandering and time restrictions, which could be surmised as today's equivalent literacy tests.
The past deserves far greater than just existing in a textbook. It must be learned. The lack of historical proficiency may not be alarming to many, but it should be. The power of history is in its ability to guide the decision-makers of today, regardless of field, from economics to politics, to ensure the errors of the past remain there. While reading and math are certainly important, that should not discount the value of the lessons of previous generations. It is a matter of necessity for Americans to master history.