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Why U.S. History Class Matters

By: Ethan Mathieu

Amid discussions of budget cuts and graduation prerequisites, schools are often forced to decide which classes are most essential to a broad learning experience. In other words, what should every graduate definitely know? People often gravitate towards core classes like math, english and science since most would agree that you should have a grasp on the fundamentals of algebra, good sentence structure and basic atomic theory to brand yourself as an educated person. 

When school officials approve the final credit structure for graduation, students will, inevitably, react. Most recently, there’s debate on whether a credit of U.S. History should be required for high school graduation. People argue that they are not interested in history the same way they are not interested in drawing or music, which are not specific graduation requirements. In fact, U.S. History is 1 of only 3 classes that West Hartford Public Schools specifically mandate for graduation--the rest have vague categories like “electives” and “arts”. The argument that U.S. History doesn’t belong in the select group of classes that every student takes, however, is fundamentally flawed.

History is not just what happened in the past. History is the study of those events, the “why” behind certain happenings and their impact on greater society. Your country’s history is your history. Understanding the foundation of the system you currently live in is essential to becoming an informed citizen--something every adult in the United States should strive to be. What people don’t realize is that you are living within the results of history. The present day that you are experiencing could have been completely different if not for one specific occurrence in history. Gaining an appreciation for that fact is a crucial step towards losing one’s superficial knowledge of the world and attaining a higher level understanding of our place in the world and society.

More pertinent to the importance of historical knowledge, some would argue, is your current or upcoming role in elections. Discussion for why voting should be mandated by federal law is for another day, so let’s assume that you intend to participate in elections once eligible. The candidates on the stage, the policies they are advocating for, and the party they serve all have a history. Understanding your vote’s impact is crucial to safeguarding a stable republic. In that way, learning about the past becomes imperative toward properly shaping the present and future.

By choosing to graduate high school you are choosing to call yourself an educated American. You are choosing to gain something that 26% of the U.S., according to The Washington Post, does not have: a high school diploma. As an educated American you need to understand the country you live in, from the principles upon which it was founded to the legacy of its former leaders. The United States Mint found that 43% of Americans don’t know who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document upon which the nation’s ideals are founded upon. In the event of a disaster, such as an invasion or nuclear apocalypse, the Declaration of Independence is the first document the government would save--and a little under a majority of the population doesn’t even know who wrote it. Not understanding what came before you undermines your position in that story.

Fully comprehending the news of the day always relies on understanding the context of each event. When Americans heard that President Trump was withdrawing from northern Syria, most probably didn’t fully know America’s storied past in the country. Most just saw a headline and took it to be shocking based on the way it was framed, without truly realizing where that shock comes from. According to The Washington Post, 20% of Americans believe that 9/11 was an inside job. Live Science found that a similar margin still doesn’t think we landed on the moon. One’s ignorance makes them open to disinformation campaigns and ignorance can only be cured through learning.

High school, for many people, is the final frontier of education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 30% of Americans did not go to college after graduating high school. Those who are able to attend college are not necessarily going to be exposed to a comprehensive American history course. In this way, high schools have a unique opportunity to reach a large swath of the population and equip them with a strong foundation. A U.S. History course is essential to that foundation.

As philosopher George Satanyama once said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Analyzing the past helps make for a brighter future. And in that light, U.S. history is, arguably, the most important class in your high school career.

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