History as Inspiration

“Dare to dream, dare to connect, dare to improve.” Those words from Jeremi Suri’s TEDx talk on the importance of history have stuck with me. His examples of how these characteristics were critical in the transformation of the world in the era of the Great Depression and then in the world after World War II resonated with me leading me to apply those ideas to other historical episodes and to education itself.

I started thinking about my classes and my students. In Modern Middle East, we are studying the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia. It struck me that what Prof. Suri pointed to as important qualities for Americans in the 1930s and 1940s, ones worth reminding ourselves about as we face tough problems, have much more universal significance. The revolution in Tunisia happened because people got over their fear of the regime and dared to connect. Once they connected, they began to see the potential for change. They dreamed a different society without a hated, corrupt dictator. Now, comes perhaps the hardest part, the sacrifices necessary to sustain the change. There are no easy answers to creating an operational civil society and a sound economy. The problems are great. But, with hard work and the imagination to see a different life, there is a chance.

Next, I considered the subject matter in my Modern World class – the American Revolution. That episode in history seems the perfect embodiment of dreaming, connectivity and hard work. The Founding Fathers imagined a different government, forged connections with one another and worked hard to get it right. We look back and marvel at those men, but perhaps we should not be so awestruck. It seems to me that is a cop out. To say that the Founding Fathers, or the Greatest Generation were somehow extraordinary lets us off the hook.

With all of this history swirling in my head, there was still one more connection I saw. I think that Prof. Suri’s lessons of history apply to education itself. If we want students to be better equipped to tackle the hard problems in the world today, we need an education system that imagines school can be different than it has been, that fosters connectivity locally and globally, and that demands improvement through hard work. Students need to know the relevance and importance of what they are learning and doing. We must challenge them to dream, connect and improve. Before we can do that, as educators, we need to think of education differently.

I hope I have not taken Prof. Suri’s ideas out of context. The talk inspired me to see patterns across time and space. While there are always differences (like Prof. Suri I do not believe that history repeats itself) there are certain elements of the human condition that are consistent.

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2 thoughts on “History as Inspiration

  1. These historical applications are brilliant, Molly. You are absolutely correct about the Founding Fathers. They were not men of marble. They were dreamers, connectors, and improvers. They made so much from so little because of what they did together. I love your application to education in general. We spend too much time in education doing what we have always done, even if it isn’t working anymore. Think how much better our schools could be if we dreamed, connected, and improved ourselves everyday. You have energized me, Molly, to think of more applications. You have inspired me to think beyond history to our present condition. I am especially eager to read the reactions of your students. They are lucky to have you as a teacher!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Jeremi. It can feel pretty rough in the trenches some days but I do hope that ultimately I am making a positive contribution to my students’ learning. It is hard to shift the paradigm, and sometimes there is pushback, but I truly believe we need to change the way students experience school. I should never ask a question that students can Google, unless that is what I want. The ground has shifted fundamentally in the twenty plus years I have been teaching. I will never be done learning my job because it will continue to evolve – a scary and exciting thought. Thanks for your inspiration. It is the ability to connect and be inspired by people across space that has enriched our discipline, which has traditionally been about connecting with people across time.

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