October 5, 2009
Problems in History
The following is my take on a few things about the subject of history that has been on my mind for a while. There are a few problems that I have with the subject, especially pertaining to how it is usually taught, well at least how it was taught to me.
The first problem, is not so much a problem with the subject of history itself, but how with how serious people take revisionist history. People can have great arguments over topics like 'If the United States hadn't joined the Allies in World War 2 than the Axis would have won the War' and while the arguments may be a good exercise in debate and general thinking they cannot be at all taken seriously. No one can say what would have happened if something in the past would have been different, there are just to many variables to account for. To look at revisionist history as anything more than a parlor game is to turn speculation into a quasi-truth. Revisionist history is a total act of the imagination and the further that it is taken turn past events and facts into a slippery slope of causation creating an event where the results couldn't be known.
The second problem comes from the types of essays people are forced to write, the opinion essay on historical events. There are a couple of things wrong with having to write that type of an essay, the first being that peoples opinions and understanding are being shaped by the topics they are forced to choose from. This is especially true when a person hasn't yet formed an opinion about the topic they are writing on. When people are forced to take a side and defend it they, statistically speaking, start to believe that side is correct after they are finished their writing. The act of writing and being forced to take a side has tricked the person into believing something.
Why this happens is easy to understand when the process of writing an opinion essay is examined. A student quickly chooses a side and then cherry picks information for their essay that supports that side. The people forced to write on these topics are only looking for confirming information and if dis-confirming information is going to have any place within their essay it has to be rebuked. It is a process of belief creation, where evidence is being collected in an extremely biased fashion, and it is encouraged at all levels of the education system.
This problem is only further compounded by the fact that if someone has an opinion about something it takes a great amount of information to persuade that person that their opinion is wrong. Sometimes no amount of information is enough. Through forced essay topics people can bend students opinions and beliefs about the world.
Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic