Understanding history is crucial

A recent study showed that only 43 percent of U.S. high school students have an adequate grasp of the history of their own nation for their level of education.

I’m a history major, and I am mortified at this. I have studied many categories of history and, although my greatest interests do not lie in U.S. history, I was not in high school in the States, either. For people not to know the important details about the country or region they inhabit is a travesty.

Does anyone recognize how important history is? What if the Roman general Scipio’s parents had never met? The military genius Hannibal might have defeated Rome, the greatest ancient empire of them all.

If Saladin, of the same mold as Hannibal, had not been an upright, honorable man — a man who once returned King Richard’s horse during the Fourth Crusade — then there would be no doubt about who controls Jerusalem today, because Saladin was the greatest commander Islam ever enlisted in its ranks.

Even seemingly little things such as Paul Revere’s ride have changed and altered the course of events so drastically that the modern world as we know it was born from their seeds.

The United States may be only some 200 years old, but it already has a rich historical background. Every ethnicity has its own story to tell. This owes much to the way the nation was founded: The Spanish settled the Southwest, the English settled much of the Atlantic coast, and the French in Louisiana.

From the Freedom Train to the classic debates of Washington and Du Bois to the religious fervor of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s when the names Malcolm and Martin meant hope and saving grace to blacks, American blacks have fought for their place in this nation. Should our kids know these things? Absolutely.

Every child of every ethnicity should be taught the history of America and why the social issues and tensions existing today are important to our nation’s growth. Our children cannot make this world a better place if they do not even know the reason behind people’s actions.

Most often you will hear people say “”history is boring.”” Perhaps they just don’t like to read. Epic battles, cultural and political debates, little people doing big things, powerful men and women, the invention of the wheel and the invention of the Intel processor — what is boring about history?

I love to hear stories, and I am pretty sure most of us grew up listening to many different tales. History is mostly about the study of events and their causes, but it can be quite entertaining. Don’t tell me that you did not enjoy your grandmother telling you how your dad once fell face-first into the toilet, or the time he stepped into a pile of doo-doo while mesmerized by a pretty neighbor. That’s family history for you.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, you don’t necessarily need a certain degree to do certain jobs. Stop telling me I should become a teacher just because I study history. The low regard of history as a worthy academic subject is revealing of people’s attitude toward learning it: “”Oh, it’s just history, no big deal.””

At least in a conversation, I can impress people with tons of trivia and interesting stories. What are the engineers and computer science people going to do? Are they going to whip out their Palms and show girls how to do math problems? “”Show me the functions baby, show me the functions!”” How adorable.

I am not just criticizing the lack of appreciation for U.S. history. I have taken it to be my right to assume that 99 percent of those who don’t know anything about their own country probably do not know much about other places around the world either.

It is always a pain to hear people say things such as, “”Alaska, hmm … igloos and Eskimos?”” Study history, for heaven’s sake. Alaska is richer in oil than any other region of America, and that says it all. Geography says there is oil; history tells you how the United States claimed it when Russia owned it and Canada is the country attached to it.

If you still think knowing history will not help you, think about this: Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton squared off in a classic duel at the turn of the 19th century.

Imagine if Hamilton had not died from critical wounds. The guy created the earliest version of the Federal Reserve Bank! Alan Greenspan is a joke compared to this guy. If Hamilton had become president, how could that have influenced politics, economics and society as a whole? We will never know, but it is my bet that the Great Depression never would have occurred. Hamilton’s economic dreams went far beyond his time. A nation’s leadership can change many things.

It is significant, even crucial, in my eyes that people learn their history so that past mistakes and catastrophes will not occur again. After all, we are humans, not animals, and learning is what we do best.