Those Who Fail to Learn from History are Doomed to Repeat it

Perhaps in this internet age it would be more accurate to say, "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to misquote people and then attribute the quote to the wrong source".

Try a Google search for the bits of the quote you feel sure about and see what I mean.

Having spent a few years carefully reading and sifting the news available online, I have come to the conclusion that critical thinking is a vital skill that everyone needs. I sometimes see comments on news websites calling for it to be taught in schools. It's a long time since I was in school, so I don't know what's being taught these days, but I was taught critical thinking skills at school - in history lessons, for example.

All the required elements were there - think about the source of the information, and what ulterior motives they might have. Look at the way information is presented - what's being pushed to the front as important, and what is being omitted? Did the source have access to all the facts? What was the social background to the source?

In maths we were taught to examine statistics and recognise the tricks used to misrepresent data. In history, we even studied Goebbels - repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. In English we saw how language can be used to persuade and beguile, though at the time I didn't even begin to suspect just how deep that particular rabbit hole went.

In general, my learning experience was a good one: I was lucky to have good teachers and the teaching methods employed in the late eighties and early nineties seemed to really suit my particular psychology. I found most lessons quite interesting, which always helps. But my point here is about what wasn't taught, and what went unsaid. All those valuable critical thinking skills I learned turned out to be useless to me, for the simple fact that no-one ever taught me (as far as I remember) that they needed to be applied to everything, all the time. Not just against history.

The impression I got was that we were in a history lesson to learn facts about history and skills that were useful in studying history. All it would have taken to fix this misapprehension would have been something like, "and by the way, this stuff still happens today, so remember to subject all authority figures, (including the media) to this same rigorous level of critical thinking." Some lessons on the mechanisms and realities of political power in today's world probably would have helped, too. For some reason it didn't occur to me that in the modern world, deception and propaganda could still be conducted at all, much less on a grand scale - I suspect my thinking probably went along the lines of, "how could anyone possibly justify or get away with it today?" Perhaps I was just a bit dim, and my classmates all caught the implication but didn't bother to tell me, I don't know.

Once the issues are considered, it could create a difficult classroom situation when the student realises that they're being taught things by a fallible person (whose authority you still have to respect), who has been conditioned by the government and society in which they grew up and is teaching a syllabus set by the government of the day. The government may have their own reasons for teaching one thing and not another, or in conditioning students to think a certain way. It might be more for the good of the country as a whole than for your personal benefit, for example. Ultimately it could cause a student to have a crisis of confidence in the authority of the teacher, which would be the logical response, really. But that would probably not be an insurmountable problem.

I find it interesting to ponder the fact that my entire learning experience was under the previous Conservative government, and then my entire working life (so far) was under a Labour government. While I was busy working and didn't have time to properly study the news, the last decade happened, with its economy fuelled by debt and house price inflation. Debt that I bought, and houses that I couldn't afford as a result.

I wonder what the kids have been learning at school under Labour for the last decade.