History at school

I was talking to a History teacher recently at a regular parent / teacher meeting. At some point I rather gushed that History was my favourite subject in school which prompted the teacher to ask me what I do now for a living. I answered, that I am a futurist.

She didn’t think it odd that I went from History to the Future, and neither do I. Time, after all, is a continuum and a good understanding of the past allows us a better understanding of the future.

Time is one of those topics that can provide hours of deep, meta-physical, quantum, philosophical fodder late into the night with a glass of wine and the right company, but for our purposes we will keep to a simple, and linear understanding of it – our past leads to our present and that precedes our future.

When we consider how best to prepare for or influence our futures, our first steps are to consider where we are at right now, and where we have come from.

This is particularly important when we deal with groups of people. It is natural for us to approach any situation with our own perspective, but some serious work is required for us to step out of our perspective and consider someone else’s.

Look around you at any meeting and think about how the others in the room are thinking about that exact moment in time. You may be bored, while someone else is engaged and a third person is waiting to push their agenda. You may have hope that this meeting is going to yield a result, while someone else is concerned that the result will not be what they want. Someone else has their mind on matters at home and someone else, with matters further afield.

It is as if you are all looking at different moments in time. Or perhaps that you are looking at the same moment, but through a prism where you see different things reflected or fractured.

If you are looking at this moment in time differently, then how much more so do we approach an apparently ‘ideal’ future when we come with unacknowledged history and unaddressed concerns.

And once we scale that, once we move to a level where we are dealing with organisations and cities and countries, how do we agree on what direction we want our future to go in, when past hurts hold some people back, and fantasies of the future drive others forward.

It is also important to understand which direction in time people in your group focus on. Those who focus on past glories or injustices are going to find it difficult to leave that behind to journey with those who are focussed on future hopes or anxieties.

There are those who say that history should be a compulsory subject in school. I would like to see a compulsory subject based on the future, with a great deal of acknowledgement of our past, so that we can act in our present with responsibility and recognition of each other. The skills we learn from a good study of history, analytical thought, cognitive flexibility, complexity thinking, these are the same skills we need to access and prepare for the future.

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