Incentivise the study of history - Forgetting will lead us to destruction

THE last generation of Irish people taught to believe that the vast majority of the world’s ills, the myriad injustices afflicting humanity, could be — indeed, should be — laid at the feet of Perfidious Albion are in the autumn of their life.
Incentivise the study of history - Forgetting will lead us to destruction

Some live in retirement settings and even if their memories allow they probably don’t sing the old, belligerent, republican ballads teachers shared with them as an authentic version of their history, with the same zest they once did.

Kevin Barry and Sean South may not be as celebrated as they once were. Certainties once unquestionable are seen as more nuanced, more open to scrutiny. A wider perspective is applied.

This change, thankfully, informed some of the centenary celebrations marking the 1916 Rising — the hearty re-enactments were splendid in their own way but the questioning of the validity of the Rising was just as important.

That this reconsideration might have been impossible in 1966, when the 50th anniversary was marked, just confirms how necessary it is to look at all of history, not just the victors’ version.

Nearly every society that has experienced a revolution struggles to reach a consensus about its history. The French celebrate Bastille Day but monarchists lurk on the right of French politics.

Putin exploits Russians’ insecurity even if that means a return to the kind of Romanov autocracy and kleptocracy that led to the Russian revolution. After Franco’s death in 1975 Spain kicked the traces and some Spaniards adopted a lifestyle that would have meant jail under El Caudillo.

The Isis fantasy of a worldwide caliphate is another example of how blinkered ambition can be if just one version of history is understood.

A new scheme, launched in Cork yesterday, is designed to share the events of our revolution in a new, hands-on way. This will, hopefully, as we approach the centenary of our own Civil War, support the widest understanding of those formative events.

How very different our recent history might have been had this approach been taken decades ago.

The need to teach history to everyone is not as widely recognised as it should be in societies that hope to learn from the past.

Generation after generation repeat the mistakes their fathers and grandfathers made. In some instances, the same generation repeats the same mistakes — as we seem to be doing around property prices and wage demands. The real tragedy of this is that it seems so easily avoidable.

Some years ago, when industry was unhappy with the kind of graduates our education system was producing, various schemes, including double points, were introduced to encourage students to take higher level maths.

Our education system, in the most irrational and bizarre way, also tries to sustain Irish by making its study compulsory.

Maybe it’s time to incentivise the study of history by, if not compulsion, then extra points.

The arguments are utterly compelling because without the ignorance facilitated by not studying history we would not have Donald Trump, Brexit, the dangerous rise of the right all across Europe or a renewed Cold War. Remembering, after all, is just another version of knowing what didn’t work the last time.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

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