Critical thinking is the thing

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2004

When I was a high school student, somewhere back in the Middle Ages, I found history to be the most boring of all subjects. All we did was memorize, names, dates and events. On exams we just regurgitated all we had supposedly absorbed. Then, in graduate school, I discovered that history could be as exciting, and useful in everyday life as science, technology, astronomy, music, art, philosophy and daily life. I finally realized that decisions and events from the past have a great impact on my own personal life and current events.

I support the idea of having a course in Alaska's history taught in all high schools in the state. However, the content is not as important as the way in which it is taught. If the course is taught by looking at traditional cultures, politics, economics, the effect of certain decisions, the biographies of those individuals who made those decisions, then it would not be just boring history. If students were required to look at people and events and question them, and see their impact on current affairs and debates, they could learn to see things in perspective. A good history course could, and should be, a way of developing reasoning skills through free and open debate.

I recently saw that there has been a great advance in science through the discovery of several new species of sea creatures. For me, and for others, the discovery of new documents, new information, new insights into the past, is equally exciting. It is just as exciting as finding a new planet in some far off galaxy, hearing a new musical composition, viewing a new work of art or understanding a new mathematical formula.

So I don't think the question is what should be taught, but how it is taught. If students learn to use critical reasoning, data, interpretations from events in the past, they will have a very important skill for life. No matter where they may move, or live or how they earn a living, they will be able to look at the past and present in a new light.

For me, I think it is much more important to teach the teachers how to make such a course challenging and exciting than simply telling the students to memorize something about Alaska's past.

Wallace M. Olson

Auke Bay

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