Why do we study history?
“Think how many things man has created. Look around at all we have—small, great, or beautiful—whatever it is, it has been created by man. But while asking for more and more of these marvelous inventions, we never think of the man that created them… we do not consider the greatness of man, we only consider his defects. Therefore, I say we must refocus our hearts. We must put the creations of man at the center, and not his defects.” - Maria Montessori
When a student at ATI offers an opinion or argument in a Socratic discussion, or small group debate, she is often asked, “What’s the history?”
Whether it is a judgment passed on a current political policy, the importance of a new scientific discovery, or the moral evaluation of a public figure, the focus is on evidence: and usually, that evidence includes understanding the relevant history, the story of how we got here.
When it comes to human life, “why” is inextricably linked with “whence”. There is no understanding of human beings without an understanding from where we came: the grand story of past ideas, lives, injustices, inventions, adventures. An inspired understanding of history—not exclusively as a list of facts and dates to memorize, but as a living tapestry that is relevant, practical, and tangible all around us—is the foundation of an engagement with the messy, interdependent, and otherwise unfathomable network that is humanity. It is the impetus for a desire to participate in that network, to change it, to improve it, to make it better.
History is so fundamental to the ATI curriculum that it is included in every discipline. Literature, math, science—everything is rooted in an understanding of the history of people, cultures, and ideas. Each academic discipline is an accumulation of human thinking and achievement, and to understand them means understanding something about how they were built.
Our belief that history and an understanding of, and appreciation for, humanity are inextricably linked leads us to take a very specific approach to teaching history:
In short: a study of history is a study of humanity, and it unlocks an appreciation for, and understanding of, the human world around us.
So, a challenge, the same one we offer to students in our classrooms. The next time you find yourself passing judgment on a newspaper headline, an online post, an off-hand comment, or a podcast, consider asking yourself: What’s the history?
Laura Mazer is the SVP of Programs at Higher Ground Education, where she enjoys thinking about the scope and sequence of the universe.