Today, I'd like to make the following two assertions:
(1) History exams should never be mandated; and
(2) We should be more careful about the categorization for education system.
When I was in school, there were many compulsory history examinations, which I really hated.
This is what I want to address in this article.
(By the way, what I want to criticize is the "history exams". I do find values in the subject of history itself. For example, our politics are very much affected by propagandistic claims that are based on "historical facts", such as a claim for a territory said to be plundered a few centuries ago. Therefore, it's essential to know our "history" to understand this sort of mysterious phenomena.)
Let me put it in this way.
History is a fiction.
It is therefore nonsense to force students to memorize history as "facts".
(Well, I can't say it's completely useless to memorize so-called "historical facts", because they can be useful for starting conversations with people, for example, so at least I think there is some meaning in memorizing.)
History is a product of imagination, which I classify into the following three types.
The first is the imagination of the writers of historical literatures.
Due to the nature of the subject, we must depend on written literatures to know the history.
But as you know, we humans often get urged to make ourselves look better, so we embellish our stories using our imaginations.
For example, writers of literatures often exaggerate by saying things like "we have a military of million soldiers!" when they only had ten thousand.
However, it is extremely difficult for us to logically prove that this kind of statement is false, or segregate observations from their "creative appropriation" that took place in the past.
Of course, there are some literatures that are less "creative".
However, we cannot forget about our beliefs, assumptions, interests, bias, tastes, misunderstandings, and prides, which are all internalized in us human beings.
Even if the writers of literatures have no intent to be deceptive, some falsehood always finds a way to sneak in.
Let's look at Prince Shotoku as an example.
According to some literatures including Nihon Shoki (c. 720AD), he was a politician during the Asuka period (c. 592 AD – 710 AD), and a legendary "superman" who was able to listen to ten people at the same time, and recognize what each said.
He is also said to have made many great achievements, some of which include authorship of the Seventeen-Article Constitution, dispatch of Japanese missions to Sui dynasty China, establishment of the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System, and construction of Horyu-ji temple.
All of these have been attributed as his works, and he has always been a "classic" in Japanese school history textbooks.
(There once was a dispute about him and he disappeared from school textbooks, but he made a splendid revival.)
However, among those involved in recent Japanese historical studies, it is now widely accepted that the legend of Prince Shotoku who made such achievements alone is quite fictitious.
There are some grounds for rendering these literatures as fictitious.
First of all, it is almost impossible for any single person to make so many achievements.
Secondly, the provisions of the Seventeen-Article Constitution should have been far from being acceptable considering the social conditions at the time.
Thirdly, there are no surviving Japanese literatures making a reference that it was Prince Shotoku himself who dispatched the Japanese missions to Sui dynasty China.
In this manner, even the history textbooks themselves are often "deceived" by the fiction told by literatures.
The second is the imagination of us readers.
We use our imaginations to "understand" literatures.
The idea that we can get the same fixed meaning from the texts written by someone itself is a fantasy.
It nearly impossible for us modern people, who devour the benefits of industrialization, to understand historical literatures written by those living in a world where an average life span is 30 years or so, in an extremely polarized society where it's not too uncommon for the people to die from starvation, and where their entire life was destined by their place of birth.
Not to mention our linguistic differences, our cultures, which are the basis of our languages, are also extremely dissimilar.
However hard we try to translate their literatures into our modern language, we can't even come close to understanding of what they really meant to say.
Therefore, we just have to let our imagination explore into the constant flux of meaning.
The third is that of the communicators of history.
They also make up a story.
Even if the literatures were able to record sole facts, and we were able to understand them 100% correctly, history still is a fiction.
It is because modern political interests affect how history is told.
Because history deals with a vast amount of information, it is impossible to incorporate history in its entirety to our education, to begin with.
Therefore, selections have to be made on what are taught as "history", and what not.
Education always reflects the intentions of those who made selections on the history.
In other words, we are not educated with "history" harmful to the current politics, and, when literatures permit multiple interpretations, only those benefitting the modern politics are taught selectively.
These pieces of information are put together, imaginatively, into "their" version of history.
Hence, history can be said to be a product of imaginations of these relevant parties.
Therefore, history should NEVER be used as a benchmark for evaluating anyone.
The topic I originally meant to tell you was education.
So, to conclude my article, I'm going to talk about what "education" is, and what we need to be educated with.
To make it easy to understand my point, let's define the objectives of education first.
For the purpose of this article, I would say there are two objectives:
Let's suppose that the subjects meeting one (or both) of these objectives fall within the category of subjects to be "educated".
Let's also suppose that "to deepen our understanding of the world" is more important than "to get useful knowledge for earning money (or to survive) in the society", because the former is less affected by the demands of time.
Under these assumptions, I would categorize the subjects of "education" as follows:
Education Categories According to Fully Hatter
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Martin Luther King, Jr.
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."