The Power of History

Aug 3, 2011 by

A famous English novelist once wrote, “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”¹  Throughout history this idea has shown truth with every civilization.  Americans learn about the Revolutionary War and how their country came to be, the English learn about the English Civil War and how it shaped their country. Knowing from whom one comes from shapes who one becomes. Therefore, the power of history comes from what one is taught, and how it is accepted. Politicians, teachers, philosophers, and most people argue to teach certain types of history to further different causes.  Should the power of history bend towards the mind of the time or towards an education of history that transcends time?

Recently in California, new legislation passed through the Governor and the Senate accepting the FAIR Education Act. This act demands that public schools are to include the contributions of gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender people to the history curriculum.² Governor Jerry Brown explains, “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.”³ Many would say that this new law transcends the harsh ideas of gays and lesbians today and others would say that this idea is going with the extreme of today’s minds.  Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the law, the real question is whether or not the law abides by the greater purpose of learning history.

The new law of teaching the history of gays, lesbians, etc.’s contributions claims to be about trying to eliminate discrimination and to make society more accepting of different people. One could not determine this virtue of accepting different types of people as the aim of all good that comes out of history. The power of history should transcend this time of acceptance and rather aim for Truth of the past by seeing both sides of each story. No legislation should demand a certain type of history be taught for the sake of acceptance, but rather for the sake of learning how things were and to judge for one’s self how things ought to be. An education of history will always be incomplete, but to teach some types of history such as gay history or women’s studies and not others because of the want of acceptance during the time is not a sufficient reason to put certain types of history before others. History should not be used to bend people’s minds the direction that they desire, but rather to let people determine for themselves what is right and to learn from the past by thinking for one’s self.

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¹George Orwell, 1984, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., (New York: 1961).

²CNN Wire Staff, “California Governor signs Bill requiring schools to teach Gay History”, July 14, 2011, www.articles/cnn.com

³Judy Lin, “California Gay History Law: Jerry Brown Signs Landmark Bill” July 14, 2011, www.huffingtonpost.com.

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