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Why history matters

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." Deuteronomy 4. 9

History teachers must be rejoicing that their subject has been released from the fusty corners to which it is too often relegated. How encouraging that people are openly debating what children should learn. That the conversation is being driven by a public movement which has gripped the imagination of young people themselves multiplies its significance.

It is indeed appropriate that schools should teach emerging generations the facts about slavery and this country's shameful links with it, alongside the horrors of war and the achievements of peaceful exploration. But I am not yet hearing the same clamour for a more accurate account of our own history: the injustices of clearance and forced migration, "mì-rùn mòr nan Gall" (against Gaelic), and the centuries-long struggle to overcome prejudice and create a society which respects the influences which made us who we are and continue to shape us as the kaleidoscopic nation we are becoming.

The Bible is strong on history - and with good reason. Who would have imagined a whole nation escaping captivity and then forcing its way into a homeland dominated by seven other people groups, each one stronger than themselves? And can you imagine Christianity without Communion: the dramatic re-membering of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross?

History's greatest enemy is the reputation it has acquired for itself: of being dull and irrelevant. Yet the biblical inheritance is anything but. Israel learned her history through exuberant festivals. In the 2,000 years of the Christian era music and drama have been key to our education. Society has never possessed such access to information and technical wizardry as we have today. How shall we apply our resources to tell our story as compellingly as it deserves?

People who don't know where they come from are like explorers who lack a map. Without knowing where you are it's easy to get lost.

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