ROSE NOLEN: Historians play valuable roles

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

I love historians. With our attention spans slowly decreasing in duration, if these people didn't keep track of everything, we probably wouldn't even remember who invented the combustible engine or the telephone.

I'm seriously worried about society's inability to remember important events. If a noteworthy date is not a national holiday, many people have no idea what we are commemorating.

Undoubtedly, with the exception of World War II veterans, some people will have to be reminded why we commemorate Dec. 7. Most people won't have a clue that it is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. If this trend continues to hold in a few years, the events that occurred on 9/11 will be forgotten by many not personally involved.

Sometimes, I think it may be the method by which information is recorded. For example, we live in an era when the video camera is a popular method for retaining information. But those of us who grew up in a generation where things were recorded in books still like to have our facts and figures in a printed form that we can hold in our hand. There is a feeling of security in the knowledge that I can always pick up an almanac or an encyclopedia and check out the facts. Having to sit down and view two hours of a video to locate the information I need would really wear me out.

Every time someone mentions filming an event for history, I secretly groan. It may be just a personal prejudice, but somehow I just don't think people retain information viewed on a screen the same way they do when they read it in a book.There are so many distractions on the screen that the core message is lost.

In any case, we seem to have a real problem in this society of remembering important things in the past. Still, no matter how many times one brings up the fact that Americans are falling behind other industrialized countries in education, some seem to think that it's unimportant. As long as we have the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, some people seem to feel that we don't have to worry.

In fact, it seems as if some Americans resent educated people. They feel intimidated by people who use words containing more than three syllables and instead of being inspired to improve their own vocabulary they are resentful. As far as they are concerned, people who have attended good schools should be ashamed of it.

I admit I have no idea what would encourage some Americans to get serious about education. Critical thinking appears to no longer be a part of national character. Such things as video games, social networking and reality television shows have assumed major importance in the lives of many people. Being entertained seems to be as essential to livelihood to some people as water, food and shelter.

No one should have to explain the importance of education, but it seems that giving people a reason to attend school is a common practice in some families. It is unfortunate that so many people actually think that the ability to get a good job is the primary purpose of getting an education. These people fail to understand that many children are surrounded by people who have a lot of money and very little education.

Among the ideas under consideration for improving our educational system is to keep classes in session throughout the year. Personally, unless we find some way of impressing on parents and children the real importance of getting a good education, I can't see that as an answer. Unless children can be shown why reading a book can potentially add more to the quality of his or her life than playing a video game, I can't see how spending more time in the classroom will help.

Finding a means of handing down history to every generation is essential. Having to reinvent the wheel every decade is a pretty stupid way of life. But if no one remembers how we did it in the first place, life will be nothing more than each generation repeating the activities of the earlier generation.

My attitude toward recording history on film probably stems from my attitude toward black and white photography as opposed to color photos. The subject may be more attractive in color but the beauty distracts from the details imprinted on the film.

I prefer my history with "warts and all." That makes it memorable.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Michael Williams December 7, 2010 | 10:01 a.m.

Well, Rose. This 61 y/o agrees with you.

That's the good news. The bad news is that you and I are dinosaurs.

My personal educational "soapbox" is the use of search engines for research. In time's past, you had to read much of a book/chapter/article to find what you were looking for. Nowadays, all you have to do is type a few words into a search engine, hit "enter", and...voila!...the pertinent passage appears. Copy down the information, reference it, and go on.

Of course, much context is lost and any additional education received by reading more content than actually needed is never achieved.

The internet is truly an amazing thing. I use it, too. But, I'm ALWAYS careful.

(PS: We could save millions of dollars each year if we changed our K-12 philosophies about computers. By all means teach keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets, and how to search for GOOD information, but books and-the-like should be the name of the game when writing research papers.)

(PSS: I like historians, too. Unfortunately, like many reporters and activists of all stripes, there are too many unrecorded, unknown agendas. Is it really possible to write about history, or a current news story, sans personal agendas?)

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