A brief history of my thoughts about history

Recently I saw a video about how they do education in Finland. It’s impressive. So much so that, at the time, I promised myself I’d read more about it (or watch more videos). To date I’ve failed to keep that promise, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Finns put a lot of emphasis on kids discovering: how to learn; what they want to learn; what makes them happy; what they might be good at. They still cover the full spectrum of arts and sciences (in fact, they seem to manage to cover subjects we’ve dropped from our own schools because there’s not enough time or it’s not deemed “relevant” enough). Anyhow, it made me think back to my own schooldays. (And, yes, this is where the history bit comes in, and not just because my schooldays are now quite a long way back in history…)

I was what would typically be called “academic” or “bright”. I did well in tests and exams. I worked hard. I handed my homework in on time. I got my O levels, my A levels and then a degree and later on another degree. And all that education opened doors of employment for me, as it’s supposed to do. I’m grateful for that. My employment, and my home life, have been “strong and stable”, to coin a current phrase.

But.

My schooldays were good but not your classic “happiest days of your life”.

I worked hard. Once I got to 14 or so I would get home from school and work till 9 p.m. most nights. I did the homework because that’s what needed to be done. I did have friends but, as I watched that Finland video, I began to wonder if I’d missed out on friendship or doing other activities because of the time I spent studying.

And two other things struck me as I looked back. First, I never had a clue what I liked or wanted to do. I knew I could understand maths and physics and was good at homework or passing exams – but that’s not what I’m talking about. Through several decades in work, I’ve never really been sure what I wanted to do.

Second, I asked myself what my gut reaction was to the question, “What subject did you most enjoy at school?”. Answer: History. (Told you we’d get to it.)

history-funI did history to O level. My teacher (Chris Rowe) was disappointed because I only scored a grade B, and I didn’t want to do it at A level. And yet it’s what came to mind 39 years later when I asked myself what I’d enjoyed most. Why? Well, words like “interesting” and “fascinating” spring to mind, but if I dig a little deeper, it has something to do with a concept of my connection to those historical events – “a sense of history”, if you will.

Our curriculum covered “modern” British and European history, starting with the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and ending with World War Two. (Nowadays, my schooldays period – the seventies – would have to be in that curriculum too!) I liked finding out what happened and why, and seeing how one thing led to another. I didn’t like writing essays about it – but I did it, naturally. Today I still like that finding out (or, more accurately, being told – normally by a presenter on a TV documentary). But I find it especially fascinating (there I go again) when I can make a link to my own history or my life today.

Take World War One, for instance. Although further in the past than WW2, I feel a stronger link to it because both my grandfather and my Great Uncle Ernest fought in it. Although Uncle Ernest was killed, my grandfather survived and went on to have my dad. (Of course, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this and we’d all end up in a space-time paradox.) That knowledge does something to me. And I still remember Chris Rowe teaching us how the Versailles Treaty at the end of WW1 sowed the seeds for WW2, a conflict that ended a mere 17 years before yours truly appeared on the scene.

Back to Finland, then. Does any of this mean I should have been a historian? I doubt it – but, then again, I’m approaching the time of life where I may have the chance to do different things, so who knows? I do know that I’m a habitual diary writer and like to look back, muse on what’s gone before in The Life Of Me, and even (sometimes) learn stuff from doing so. Chris Rowe started our 4th form history lessons by defining history as something like:

The art of looking at the past in the light of the present to learn lessons for the future.

So maybe I am a historian after all! I’m going to try to contact Chris Rowe to let him know.

 

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