Why look at History?

By Joel Batson–Tōtara Teacher

In these tumultuous times I thought it apt for us to take a glimpse at why we look at the area of history.  Funnily enough, it was an area that either wasn’t taught that well when I was a kid, or I just didn’t really pay much attention to it.  Iwonder how it was for you growing up?  Either way, I certainly didn’t learn very many terribly deep lessons from history when I was young.  And that’s really the crux of the reason why.

In the Montessori classroom we look into history — to be specific, human history, in order to learn from what happened in the past and, hopefully, help children to think about how they might apply those lessons to their actions in the future. As the old adage goes: if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.

The way we look at history is inherent in the word itself. We use stories. We essentially look at the story of humanity.  We encourage children to use their imaginations to transport themselves to other times, places and locations in order to imagine walking in the shoes of other humans, just like themselves, as they sought to meet their fundamental needs in a myriad of different ways.

Examples could include telling stories about how the first cities came together in Ancient Sumer; how it seemed that the growing of a surplus of crops in the fertile soil of the Euphrates river valley encouraged greater build-up of people living together; and how this method of living was so very different to most other people living at that time who mostly led hunter-gatherer lifestyles, living hand to mouth most months.

We might also look at the stupendous architecture of the Egyptian civilisation and what it seems was needed for those people to put together their systems of worship, governance and building.  We look at what it may have been like each year as the Nile river flooded its banks and the fields then had to be re-marked out with a clever system of maths that gave the Egyptians extremely accurate corners. So accurate, that the same system seems to have been used to build the pyramids themselves.

From these sorts of stories, the emphasis is really on how it was that these humans met their needs. What we mainly find is that for these humans to have achieved such wonders as building the pyramids, organising themselves into civilisations, figuring out planting fruitful crops or finding food in harsh conditions, the thing they most often had to have figured out to achieve all of those amazing feats is cooperation.  Just how do 2, 3, 4 and more different people get along with each other effectively in order to achieve a common goal that ends up being good for everyone in the picture?