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The time when English class was solely about reading and writing is now officially long gone! With only over a month into my English 101, I have already gained a remarkable amount of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding not only about writing, (as one might merely assume) but more importantly, about history as a knowledge domain. I’ve also learned how to expand my reading comprehension skills, writing capabilities, and how to grasp an abundance of information about our past on an even deeper and complex level than ever before.
Prior to this class, I had no idea that I knew such little about ourselves as intellectual humans; I knew even less about the importance of everything we’ve learned about our past and how it is portrayed in our society today. History as I knew it, was just, well, history. Reading, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, has blown my mind away with ideas, questions, solutions, and a new-found appreciation for the thoughts and research authors put into their work, including my professor, to broaden simple minds such as myself.
Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, made such an impression on how I now look at the teaching of history. The first two chapters were extremely difficult for me because I remember feeling confused with the delivery of all the information Sam Wineburg was trying to get across. After Professor Sullivan required a re-read, I began to understand Sam’s points of views on why his perspective was so important, not only for school, but for our own lives.
(My own life.) It was quoted that “history holds the potential, only partly realized of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum,” and “each generation must ask itself anew why studying the past is important and remind itself why history can bring us together rather than-as we have seen most recently-tear us apart” (5).
I loved these quotes because it made me realize that history shapes us to be who we are and what we have become both as a human and as a nation. It also gives me the belief that with studying, we can come together and change the world if we don’t “discard or just ignore vast regions of the past that either contradict our current needs or fail to align tidily with them” (6). Going beyond what we know about history and how we’ve lived today, it’s obvious from Wineburg’s point of view, as well as my own, that we need to open our minds to the past and explore how we’ve come to be the people we are today. I believe historical knowledge should be an assemblage of information to help us gain perspective on our potential future.
Wineburg wrote about a lot of important things, but one that stood out to me was “humility.” He made a claim, according to Professor Sullivan, that it was more important than “remembering facts and dates”. After a long contemplation on what he meant and its importance in history, and my own life, I believe he made an astonishing point. Humility could very well improve our judgements and how we move forward in life. It’s important to be able to learn from our mistakes and be ashamed or embarrassed enough to then ameliorate ourselves. Thinking about that now makes me wonder if I’ve ever allowed myself such vulnerability.
In studying the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I’ve learned to see our history in an unparalleled view of what we have going on in the world today. Before I was to read the book, my professor had me write down everything I knew about growing up in the South during the 1930’s and 1940’s as an African-American woman, and I must admit, my notes were scarce to say the very least. I knew that racism was still around, (as it is still today) but I did not realize to what extent. That time frame seems like it was forever ago, but as my classmate Alyssa Bisi mentioned in her response to the reading, only about 90 years has gone by. (Right before my mother was born!)
This book has taught me what it is to be considered an outsider, an outcast, and as Professor Sullivan mentioned, it “invites us to reconsider how we measure ‘success’ in the context of our own lives.” In chapter 15, Momma said, “you must be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. Some people, unable to go to school were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors” (99). This to me signifies that everyone defines their own wealth and victory in life and it can be governed by more than your bank account or where you live.
So, what is history’s ultimate goal? What has reading these books taught me about history in correlation to today’s world and how I possibly think? What is it to be human. History in a nutshell is more than just what happened yesterday or 500 years ago. It is who I am, how I have come to be emotionally, socially, economically, it’s how my mother raised me and how her mother raised her and so on. I believe that without history, there can be no proper future. How can we as people know right from wrong without having made mistakes to learn from? These books have given me a new understanding of what it is like to be human. I think it’s in our nature to automatically evolve our intelligence and expand ourselves. After all, don’t we control the human race and all life on earth?
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