How we stop doing things the stupid way

When all is said and done, there is great wisdom to be got from Puss in Boots in Shrek. A master of the art of life, a great survivor, a curator of the nine lives that he was born with, he was often known to impart the words of a creature who had lived life to the full and knew all its twists and turns.

And although, Puss in Boots is unlikely to be ever mentioned in the same breadth as Einstein or Shaw or Wilde, there is one of his quotes that often comes to my mind, and maybe because that is the way I am wired.

His line —”I thought we were done doing things the stupid way.”

And while it may have fallen from his whiskers with the greatest of ease it is one that is so relevant.

We are all prone to doing things the stupid way, and we only know what the stupid way is if we can recall just what caused the stupid way in the first place. I write this week in the light of the welcome decision by Education Minister Joe McHugh to review the removal of History as a compulsory subject from the Junior Certificate curriculum.

The staff of the History Department at NUI Galway wrote to me this week to welcome the decision, and I have to concur with the sentiment of what they are saying.

“At a time of heightened public interest in history and the proliferation of a wide array of online sources as a result of digitisation, the historian’s craft serves as great a public good as it ever did, sifting through a mass of information to discern patterns in the past, applying the rules of evidence and critical enquiry.

In order words, trying to avoid doing things the stupid way.

They make the point that skills imparted to history students, in school years and beyond, are critical to the understanding of our world and in arousing intellectual curiosity.

Never has it been more crucial that our students retain a sense of all that has happened in the past so that they can do their best to ensure that only the good is repeated, and the mistakes avoided.

In our country too, as we approach a plethora of centenaries of events that shaped this country, it is good that we retain a sense of who we are, what we came from, and to appreciate all we are fortunate to have in the light of the deprivation and starvation that existed in this country over the last two centuries.

Since the 1970s, there has been a sense that the institutions that grew up after World War II would prevent the world from ever teetering on the edge of disaster again. Alliances were seemingly formed, certain extremist political positions were shunned and prohibited, but the allowance of wars in Yemen, in Syria, in the Balkans, the new aggressions in the Crimea have shown that we are well capable of repeating the mistakes of the past.

Never before have we more needed the ability to look back at what has gone on; to deny that to the next generation would have been scandalous. The decision to review is a welcome one — and when we say review, let us take a look at how history is taught in our schools, and not allow it become an option again merely because of the way in which it has been imparted.

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