Once students have reaped the benefits of utilizing oral histories, students will then have a grown appreciation for history. Students can then apply this appreciation to receive the benefits that learning history in the classroom provides. The Ohio Department of Education discusses the importance of history and social studies education, and informs people that this education “provides students the ability to recognize themselves as part of history, recognize and apply spatial relationships as analytical tools… and develop an understanding of continuity, change, and chronology” (Ohio Board of Education). These tools enable students to find their personal place in history, as well as provide them with an understanding of how they will impact the future.
That is, education is vital in fostering students’ understandings of how them and their families fit into the past. Especially during their developing years, people often have a hard time finding their importance in the world and wonder why they are here. This connection can be particularly difficult if he does not fully grasp the fact that every person “is made by society and by its historical push and shove” (Mills, 6). Tim Urban reminds people that a person’s family tree is vast, and just 9 generations back includes about 4,096 people in that generation and over 8,000 people in the entire family tree (Urban). That’s only about 300 years ago, and if a single one of those people were missing, that person would not exist today. Without an understanding of the influence of history on their own life, a person may find it difficult to find their significance and how amazing it is that they are alive. This history becomes easier to relate to when a person looks at their individual family history, but learning about history helps a person put into perspective how they have been shaped by it in general. History allows the student to discover more about himself and his society.
Furthermore, the student will not only see their place in history, but teaching history to students aides their view of how they impact the future. C. Wright Mills states that a person “lives out a biography” and that by “living he contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of this society and the course of it’s history” (Mills, 6). Just like how the past contributes to a person’s present, a person’s present contributes to a future person’s past. With people being so interconnected, it’s impossible for any human not to make some sort of impact in the world, no matter how minute. If a person is not aware of how the past has affected them, it will be increasingly difficult for them to understand how they will affect the future.
So far, it has been made quite clear why it is important for people to study history, especially oral histories, but some people may wonder why interviewing the elderly has been emphasized. While it is still true that everyone has a story to contribute, collecting the stories of the elderly is a more urgent situation. An example of why interviewing the elderly is particularly urgent is shown in the story of Marie Wilcox, a Wukchumni Native American. Marie grew up speaking the Wukchumni language with her grandmother family, but, until recently, she never taught the language to anyone else. When she learned that she was the last person on earth who spoke the Wukchumni language fluently though, her urgency to teach became much greater. She began to write a dictionary, as well as create an oral version of her dictionary. She also began teaching her children and grandchildren how to speak Wukchumni so that her native language would not die off. Marie was born in 1933, so she is worried that if she does not work to teach other, her native language, as well as all the stories passed down in her language, will die off with her (Vaughan-lee). If Marie desires to pass along her language though, it will not be enough for her to make an effort, but other people will have to listen and learn from her. It is not a goal that she can finish on her own.
Marie’s story is similar to the stories of many other elderly people in America and how, without someone to listen, their stories may forever exist unheard. While not everyone carries a dying language with them, every person does carry an important story with them, even if they don’t believe they do. Helen Hohbein, who recorded the stories of many elderly people while she worked in a nursing home, stated that “almost always [the elderly] would say their life was boring. But asking questions, bringing out good memories, and being encouraging would bring out the good things… I never found anyone to have led a boring life” (Hohbein). Without the encouragement to share their stories, these elderly people may not have ever shared what they had to offer to the world. Their stories and experiences would have passed on with them. In a society that is often ignorant of their family pasts, this is an especially relevant possibility.
Understanding why is it important to learn history is one of the tools that this paper should have provided and will aid in creating the tapestry of history. The pieces, however, still must come from personal stories like Marie Wilcox’s. These stories are hard to retrieve though with America losing the oral tradition and their interest in history. People perceive history as growing increasingly boring as the years pass, but it’s not history’s fault. It is directly correlated with America losing the oral tradition and personal histories. By encouraging the practice of oral history, Americans may once again connect and relate to history and learn from it, as they should. The tapestry of history will become more complete.
Hohbein, Helen C. “Questions for Senior Action Project.” Message to the author. 4 Mar. 2016. E-mail.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford UP, 1959. Print.
“The Evidence Base for Social Studies: Social Studies in Elementary Education.” The Evidence Base for Social Studies: Social Studies in Elementary Education. Ohio Department of Education. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Urban, Tim. “Your Family: Past, Present, and Future – Wait But Why.” Wait But Why. 2014. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Vaughan-lee, Emmanuel. “‘Who Speaks Wukchumni?’.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2014. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.