Its History

Just as a follow up to the last post…

What I disagree with in some of my courses is not necessarily what is taught but how. This is especially true in some of my history courses. Rather than approaching history as a discipline some professors teach history as though it were completely subjective. They tend to focus on issues rather than on facts.

I had a really good professor last semester. He had been a colonel in the Israeli Armed Forces back in the day (he was stationed in an outpost on the Bar-Lev line during the Yom Kippur War – in the only one that wasn’t overrun). I think all of us feared him a little. I remember once, after a presentation by one of the students, he thanked the presenter, leaned back in his chair and proceeded to give a painfully honest critique of the presentation. It was uncomfortable but at the same time it showed that he took the subject matter seriously and he challenged the rest of us to do the same. Ha, as I think about it, I usually walked out of the class feeling a little dumber than when I had entered.

What I liked most about his class though was that he treated history as a discipline. He believed that objectivity was a worthy goal to strive towards and that there was a methodology that could be learned; there were questions that could be asked:

What are they trying to say? (summarize it in a sentence)
Who are they speaking to?
Where are they speaking from?
Who are they disagreeing with? (the antithesis is usually buried somewhere)
What kinds of sources are they using?

Anyway, there is nothing profound here… but it was refreshing to a have prof that believed that there was a right and wrong answer to historical questions and taught history that way. (In the first lecture he told us, “You will not find these kinds of theorist [Sartre and the like] among serious historians. You will find them among literary critics or philosophers but not historians.”) It made for some interesting discussions and good arguments… and was a contrast to some other history classes here at the university. I noticed too, that those of us who were in the class were much more motivated to learn.

I wonder if a part of the problem with the modern education system – as Obama promises to throw more money at it in the States – comes from a lack of desire by students to learn? After all, in a world of relativism, why bother?

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