History Lessons

Last Monday I introduced our current topic, the Cold War, in my grade 11 history class. Timely.

“What do you think . . . ?”
“What if . . . ?”
“Is it possible . . . ?”

Once a week, we read the news together in my grades 8, 9, and 10 individuals and societies classes. And the we discuss why each piece of news is important.

“But why . . . ?”
“Who is . . . ?”
“What should we do?”

I don’t have answers for many of the questions my students are asking now, but I encourage the questions. I don’t always know where to direct them for more information, but I’m glad they want more information. Students have shown me social media posts that bother them and shared videos they’ve watched. They’re talking at home with their families and those conversations lead to more questions.

Most of the time, the best answer I can give also happens to be the most honest answer: “I don’t know. I never expected we’d be here and here we are. So I don’t know.”

One student nodded. “That’s exactly what my dad said.”

It’s eerie to be studying a topic that is suddenly a very different topic than it was when I first outlined this unit last spring. The world as we understood it mere weeks ago is not the same world that we are living in today. And as with every major change or transition, it never will be again.

“Do you think this will end up in history books?”

In graduate school, my classmates and I latched onto the idea of big H and little h history. Big H history is the history we learn, study, read about in books. It’s the history that moves and shapes the world, the history of leaders and power. Little h history is the history of all of us as individuals, the history of we the people that responded to the events around them. Little h history is all of us, our stories, but our names are rarely known.

Big H history is the one that repeats itself; little h history is the one that is viscerally real.

Understanding the past matters because the past created the present. Our behaviour in the present will create the future. Maybe tides are turning. And maybe the world will become a better, more peaceful place. Maybe “enough is enough” will finally be enough, and maybe open arms to these refugees will mean open arms to all refugees.

I never thought the world would get to this point. Yet here we are.

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