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The Value of History
By Ransom A. MACKIE, M. A., STATE NORMAL SCHOOL,
FAIRMONT, WEST VIRGINIA.
HY should all students be required to study at least
some phases of the history of civilization from earliest times to the present ?
What is the value, or the purpose of history? gitmeubunDITAR
What can and should it do for the student?
What phases of history should the teacher empha
In this article let us consider just one question; namely, the purpose of history. We shall discuss the others later.
Since the character of the work is determined by the standard which the student adopts, and since the standard depends largely upon interest, it is necessary that the teacher explain the value of the study and set before the student high ideals and if possible
arouse within him a laudable ambition. Someone has said that a í desire in a boy's heart is better than a book in his hand, for desire and interest always beget effort and activity for achievement.
Some contend that the purpose of the study of history is to form an adequate conception of the most notable things done by the human race. But, "what for?” it may be asked. Surely the study of history is not merely to know what has happened and what man has accomplished in all fields of human endeavor, although this is highly desirable. Truth for truth's sake is impor- ✓ tant. We get considerable pleasure just in knowing facts, and knowing that we know. But we cannot stop here. Knowledge must be applied. Educators who believe in the new pedagogy, contend, and you have heard the statement over and over again, that the study of the past helps us to explain and to appreciate the present and aids in solving contemporary problems. By learning
of the successes and triumphs of the past, we may profit by them; and by learning of the mistakes and failures we may avoid them.
But this is not all. Besides aiding the student to see the value of the past in explaining the present” and helping to solve contemporary problems, courses in history tend to establish habits of correct thinking and sound, methods of study.
Furthermore, in accumulating ideas, facts, and illustrations from history the student enlarges his mind, cultivates his perception, stimulates and exercises his imagination, strengthens his memory, and trains his judgment. The habit of correct thinking is just as essential as the accumulation of information. The importance of the desire to learn and the ability to think must be recognized.
Even if the student is unable to remember many historical facts, he nevertheless "comes to see that one thing leads to another: he begins quite unconsciously to see that events do not simply succeed each other in time, but that one grows out of another, or rather out of a combination of many others.—He thus acquires some power of seeing relationships and detecting analogies."*
"In the ordinary class-room work, both in science and in mathematics, there is little opportunity for discussion, for differences of opinion, for balancing of probabilities; and yet in every day life we do not deal with mathematical demonstrations, or concern ourselves with scientific observations; we reach conclusions by a judicious consideration of circumstances and conditions some of them in apparent conflict with one another, and none of them susceptible of exact measurement and determination."*
In view of these facts a few authorities maintain, and I believe they are right, that history supplies a kind of intellectual training that can be secured in no other way. The student must weigh evidence, draw inferences, make, comparisons, invent solutions and form judgments.† He is thus trained in logical and philosophical reasoning.
The accuracy of conception and statement required, the mastery of principles, the solution of problems—all these develop habits of mind of the most healthful and useful kind. There is hardly any business in which the processes employed in studying history are not in constant use, and there can be no position in life in which the mental discipline gained is valueless, while the facts learned are almost indispensable to every cultured man and woman.
* Report of Committee of Seven.
+ If this be the value of history, much responsibility rests upon the teacher. The problem is to get the student “to weigh evidence, draw accurate inferences, make fair comparisons, invent solutions, and form judgments" this is the serious
problem in teaching history as it is in all education for efficiency according to Dr. Eliot.
Again, there is no study, perhaps, which offers such opportunities as history does, for gaining facility in using books and in selecting desired material; and this is a highly important result of historical study, for a man can scarcely be considered educated unless he knows how and where to find information. In fact "the inability to discover what a book contains or where information is to be found, is one of the common failings of the unschooled and the untrained man."
"By the reading of good books, and by constant efforts to recreate the real past and make it live again, the pupil's imagination is at once quickened, strengthened, and disciplined; and by means of the ordinary oral recitation if properly conducted, he may be taught to express himself in well-chosen words. In the study of foreign language, he learns words and sees distinctions in their meanings; in the study of science, he learns to speak with technical exactness and care, in the study of history, while he must speak truthfully and accurately, he must seek to find apt words of his own with which to describe past conditions and to clothe his ideas, in a broad field of work which has no technical method of expression and no peculiar phraseology."*
Continuing a thought already expressed, “the study of history gives training not only in acquiring facts, but in arranging and systematizing them and putting them forth as an individual product." All of us recognize the fact that the "power of gathering information, is important, and this power the study of history cultivates; but the power of using information is of greater importance, and this power too is developed by historical work.”—If a student is taught to get ideas and facts from various books, and to put those facts together into a new form, his ability to make use of knowledge is increased and strengthened.-He “develops capacity for effective work, not capacity for absorption alone.” “History is also helpful in developing what is sometimes called the scientific
• Report of Committee of Seven.
habit of mind and thought. In a sense this may mean the habit of thorough investigation for one's self of all sources of information, before one reaches conclusions or expresses decided opinions."*
Although we must accept the work of others, everybody is required to study and think and examine before he positively asserts.” In connection with this, a suggestion to the teacher might be added. He should point out the advantages of approaching every question "without prejudice," and the student should learn that "open-mindedness, candor, honesty are requisites for the attainment of scientific knowledge."
Finally, to quote Dr. Eliot, President-Emeritus of Harvard University :
“If any study is liberal and liberalizing, it is the modern study of history—the study of the passions, opinions, beliefs, arts, laws, and institutions of different races of communities, and of the joys, sufferings, conflicts, and achievements of mankind. Philology and polite literature arrogate the title of the "humanities,” but what study can so justly claim that honorable title as the study which deals with the actual experience on this earth of social and progressive man?
“What kind of knowledge can be so useful to legislator, administrator, journalist, publicist, philanthropist, or philosopher as a well ordered knowledge of history? If the humanity or liberality of a study depends upon its power to enlarge the intellectual and moral interests of the student, quicken his sympathies, impel him to the side of truth and virtue, and make him loathe falsehood and vice, no study can be more humane or liberal than history.”
To sum up: There are at least six good reasons why all should study history:
First. This study is valuable because of the knowledge gained, especially important knowledge of selected subjects.
Second. It aids the student in establishing sound methods of study, and thus supplies a most fruitful kind of intellectual training. Third. The study of history trains the student in the use of * Report of Committee of Seven.
books. It aids the student in learning how and where to find information.
Fourth. It instills in the mind of the student high ideals, gives a sense of appreciation, develops a healthy philosophy of life, and thus aids in the formation and development of character.
Fifth. The study of history, if presented in the right way, will inspire the student. He will desire to go farther—to see and explore new fields, and thus the habit of research and a taste for good reading will be cultivated.
Sixth. It helps one to sympathize with, to explain and to appreciate the present, and aids in solving contemporary problems pertaining to sociology, economics, and government; and in some respects history serves as background or skeleton for literature, science, politics, philosophy and perhaps other studies.
The march of Love cannot be stayed.
It strikes its power through the soul-
Knowing beyond is triumph yet,-
Yes, heaven and earth are shaken by
“Thy will be done!" has laid its hand
-HELEN CARY CHADWICK.