I find it surprising that AP US History is quickly becoming my favorite class this year. And that’s saying a lot, since all of my other classes are great and history class was always by far my most dreaded class.
I always knew that history was an interesting subject, but up until this year, it was taught in a way that was incredibly boring and disparaging of the subject. We would mostly do pure busywork, and only occasionally would I be truly interested in what we were learning. Now, after almost every class period, I walk out of the classroom thinking, Wow, who knew history could be this fascinating? I think school should be a place where I spend my time getting my mind blown rather than counting down the minutes until class is over, and I’m glad that this course is allowing me to do the latter. (Actually, I feel like APUSH would be more interesting if it covered some areas in more depth and increased class discussions, but I still think it’s significantly more interesting than any other history course I’ve taken.)
The main difference this year is that we’re looking beneath the surface to ask the Why and How. In all of my past history courses, we focused more and the Who, What, When, and Where. But since we learn the facts outside of class for homework, we get to spend class actually synthesizing and analyzing the information we learn at home. Taking this course made me realize how heavily history is based on cause-and-effect and why it’s so important to learn. It taught me that history is a truly beautiful map and a complex, interwoven, and fascinating story.
Knowledge is a tree, and in the past, my knowledge of history and politics was largely based off of the media and articles I read. These “little leaves” of information never gave me a complete understanding of how the world actually worked. Rather, this information, when taken alone, contorts our views on reality, giving us a false understanding of the world around us. To truly “know” any piece of information (in any subject), we must comprehend the whole tree, down to its roots, and understand how every part of the tree contributes to its overall structure. This is why we study history: in order to maneuver in the world we live in, we must also understand the roots of where we come from.
Another reason I am starting to love history is because it simultaneously emphasizes the importance of the little details and the big picture. I know people complain when we have to memorize “trivial details,” but it is these little details that makes history so interesting. And really, how detailed must details be to be considered “details”? Because for us, we consider things to be details when they make smaller impact on the outcome, but for people back then, those details were everything. Just like poetry, photography, science, politics, and pretty much any subject you can think of, it is these nuances that create substance. It’s not just the momentous decisions in our lives that define us, but the day-to-day details that build us up and determines our destiny.
I also find it fascinating how you can see that each culture had a prevalent mindset, or way of thinking, and how this mindset affected people’s actions. And I realized that it’s easy to see other cultures’ mindsets and how different they are between cultures, but it’s hard to see our own culture, simply because we’re so blinded by it. So I guess history teaches us how brainwashed we all are by society and allows us to judge the mindset of our culture against those in the past. It also teaches us about the fluidness of mindsets and how the basic beliefs we accept without question are not what have always been or will be.
I feel that at my school (or at least around the people I interact with on a daily basis), there is a definite devaluation of humanities classes. And I find it sad, because although I want to become an engineer and/or scientist when I grow up, I find that the humanities and the “soft skills” we learn are incredibly important in building character and teaching us how to think with different perspectives. These are skills that are vital not only for society but also for internal happiness, which is arguably all that really matters.
On a larger scale, I think it’s important for students to take a step back and understand the relevancy of what we’re learning, and how the subject ties into other seemingly unrelated disciplines. It’s our obligation as students to try to see the value in the topics we learn because the more we comprehend the importance of what we learn, the more we realize how miraculous our world is.