History is one of the greatest subjects a person can choose to study. Sadly I think too many Americans fail to appreciate the wisdom that can be gained by great (and not so great) figures and events of the past. A US News article reported the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The study did a number of tests done at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels on subjects such as math, science and U.S. history, and all were based on a 500 point scale. The average score for high school seniors was 288. Fifty-five percent of high school seniors had a less than basic understanding of U.S. history, while only twelve percent were ranked "proficient" (meaning they have mastered challenging subject matter). The implications are obvious, I hope. These are students about to enter college (hopefully) and only 12% have a working knowledge of how to answer the challenging subject matter history so often presents, and the vast majority will have little understanding of some of the themes of history. Most seniors who go off to college will therefore lack the ability to cite precedents in any field of study, and if they can cite precedents they may not understand the context or significance of the precedent.
History can teach us a number of wonderful things such as why George Washington was able to defeat the British and win our independence, or why slavery was largely unprofitable in the North, but a measure of social status and wealth in the South. But even more, history's key themes can give us a number of other important benefits such as:
1) A deeper appreciation for the struggles our ancestors had to face
2) How the world got to be the way it is today
3) Role models to identify with
4) Avoiding people's past mistakes
5) Understanding the world we live in today
There's never been a better time to understand history. The Western world is passing, and, unless we learn and understand what made us great and return to that, the West will find itself suddenly overtaken and outcompeted. I do not believe that the West is doomed, but it can be surpassed if it fails to examine history for the keys to what made it great.
I hope that as I continue to write on these topics my readers will see the benefits to studying history, and enjoy it as much as I do. History has relevance not just for historians and researchers, but for everyone everywhere. Without a working knowledge of history we cannot appreciate where we have come from, and how we got to today.