Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” ― George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Five Volumes in One
This fall, I’ll be teaching history full time for the first time in my teaching career. I am excited and I am worried. History gets a bad rap, especially with 13-14 years olds. Many folks believe history is remembering all sorts of dates and facts, and while that’s part of it, it’s not the reason we study history. We study history to learn from our mistakes and move forward as a people, as a society.
This past year, I taught one section of history and it opened my eyes, again. American society seems to repeat itself every other generation – the issues my great grandparents faced, my generation faces today. In the 1840s immigrants – the Irish – were blamed for the country’s ills. Three generations later in 1900 – 1920s a different group of immigrants – eastern and southern Europeans were blamed, today it’s yet another group of immigrants longing for freedom.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
From the “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
In the last quarter of the school year, I suggested a daily dose of history and volunteered to manage it. Administration ALWAYS appreciates initiative and follow through. Each school day I’d select an event and create a slide for the morning announcements. My colleagues knew I was behind it and let me know they appreciated the reminder of the importance of each day. Sometimes, I’d tweet it with my school twitter account – @ScullenWatkins.
— Clay Watkins (@ScullenWatkins) August 6, 2015
I’d only pick days when we were in session and sometimes I’d leave out an important date – such as this year’s anniversary of D-Day – because it fell on a Saturday or Sunday. Albeit the D-Day anniversary fell on the last Saturday before school finished, but still it as a Saturday. Some significant anniversaries or milestones fall when school isn’t in session such as today’s anniversary – the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
As a historian, I’ve read (and studied) both sides of the issue. And, though it may have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe even millions, I still wonder if using atomic weapons was necessary. I know it allowed my father-in-law to come home in 1946 and that may have changed my life.
Last summer, I read an interesting account of the development of the atomic bomb. Some of it I knew, some I did not.
This spring, I was in Washington D. C., while I was there we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and saw the ‘Enola Gay,’ the B-29 that dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.
Several years before, while visiting the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, I saw ‘Bockscar,’ the B-29 that dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki.
I recall trying to explain the significance of the airplane to W., this spring it was much easier.
The older I become, the greater appreciation I have for history and the stories of our past, my past. When I was 13, going on 14 (the age of the kids I teach), I loved history – it was my favorite subject, though you would have never known by looking at my grades. But, most kids don’t enjoy history. When I ask them why they tell me it’s because they see history as remembering dates, but history is more than knowing dates and events, it’s about relationships and understanding cause and effect. Another teacher and I believe each generation remembers a date, forever. 8/6/45 is a date we should all remember. ALWAYS.
It’s important to understand what happened in our past, lest we repeat it.
Today was a great day. W and I made it back to lake – he had a wonderful time hiking at Philmont and we arrived with enough time to spend some time on the lake. The lake was like glass, in case you are wondering. In the meantime, the seconds and minutes on today are tick-tocking away and I am close to discover whether, or not, tomorrow will be a million and six times better. I’ll learn tomorrow. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, remembering the past, but keeping an eye on the future.
What events do you associate with a date and why?