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Beyond restoring the rear-mirror

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The Guardian editorial published 11th April 2018 titled: “As history returns to the curriculum,” not only makes a good read but compels a rejoinder.

It is as curious as it is truly sad that a generation of Nigerians over the last 20-25 years never had the benefit of being formally taught History as a subject in secondary school.

It is sad because the oldest of this “we didn’t do History” generation are approaching 40. Some are already in the legislative houses and in positions of authority.

Really, why would an individual choose to drive a car without a rear mirror? Is the driver too scared of the sights behind? May be like 19th century writer, James Joyce: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

The dreadful “blood and fire” of history are poignant reminders that ought to compel driving in the right direction.

A society unwilling to learn from its past is doomed. Objective history should be replete with acts of heroism and cowardice, courageous acts and fearful inactions, proud moments and heritages contrasting disgraceful occasions, era of prosperity and epochs of pervasive poverty, and importantly, evidence of the power of vision and visionaries countervailing the backwardness of myopia and naivety.

Interestingly, our self-perception – an essential prerequisite for success and progress – may be derived or shaped by the lessons learned from events and personalities of history.

Our confidence or lack of it makes a huge difference in the way we relate with ourselves and the outside world. A strong sense of history ought to prevent repeat of past bad behaviour as well as reinforce strong and able leadership.

It does not appear the 18th century author G W F Hegel shares that view.

He wrote in his Philosophy of History: “What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it.”

Yet, people and governments across the globe cherish their past and treasure it and have even built museums – the showcases of history.

Whether as a people, we choose to learn from history or act on principles deduced therefrom, nothing justifies what appears to be induced “amnesia” that effectively amounts to self-deceit.

We may try, but the truth is that, we really cannot insulate ourselves from watching the operation of “the law of cause and effect,” something every history lesson teaches.

On reflection, were those afraid of history probably suspecting they would be adversely judged by it? Thanks to the power of today’s information technology, there are no longer dark corners.

Indeed, there is nowhere to hide. Virtually everything of importance is each day well-documented. It is now much easier deriving history, taught or not. So, “no more, where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”

Nigerians must now be tired of a quarter of a century of our chosen “blissful ignorance” that has taken the sullen populace to nowhere.

While commending the authorities for finally lifting ‘the ban’ on overtly teaching history in our schools and restoring it to the curriculum, there is plenty of work to do and many hurdles to scale.

Consider some tough questions: First, where would the competent history teachers come from, when for nearly 25 years the subject was not taught?

Second, is there an action plan, programme or adequate budget to support the good intention? Third, what in the second decade of the 21st century qualifies as “relevant history” to be taught in Nigerian schools?

The list of questions is obviously longer but honestly finding the right answers to these three, is a good start for our policy makers and those executing the plan.

Indeed, honesty and passion would help drive the solutions in the right direction.

Re-fitting a rear mirror on the car is not enough, we must learn to use it well to good effect. History provides that rear mirror. Use it!

Eromosele resides in Lagos


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