Should Current Events be Discussed in History Classes?

Which history is most important, the history that is being created or that of the past? Students and teachers are both faced with this question, especially with the current state of politics and society. Historians say that we are living through an incredibly important time, but does that mean that it is the school’s job to teach kids about it? Harrison Burns ’24 said, “It is important [to learn] because what is happening right now, will soon be history.” 

Current events and history are interconnected. Learning about a historical event and then connecting it to a current event is helpful to a student’s understanding of the past. 

In most history classes, current events are not on the syllabus but are still discussed even a little bit in classes. Ryan Wood teaches a course called Global Peace and Justice that is required for freshmen to take. It is listed as a history class, but Wood described it as, “a history class but not fully.” Current events are debated and more recent historical events are dissected to learn about non-violence. 

Ryan Wood ‘16 commented that “It makes history, which can feel like a million years ago, be more relevant. I hope that my students can compare the past with the present so that they have a more rounded and better understanding of history.” Teaching current events is a way of engaging students and helping them see the importance of history if they can see that they are living through it. Devin Wallace ‘24 thinks that “[Current events] are the most interesting and valuable parts of history classes.” 

Is it the school’s job to educate students about current events? Harrison Burns ‘24 questioned, “If it is not the school’s responsibility then whose is it?” But here is where the debate becomes complicated. Donald Morton, US history teacher, said, “I think that there is often the assumption that history is where current events should be taught, but here is where you get into trouble. I may have a personal opinion on an event, but teaching it is a whole other thing. It is easy for me to stop an argument about history because I know what the right answer is. I am not an expert on what happened last weekend.” Current events do not have the research and vetting that historical ones do. It is a whole different thing to teach about a topic without that research. Scott Clothier, US history teacher, said, “Current events fall under political science which is different from history and very difficult to teach.” Donald Morton explained that “At a college level, there is the idea that you need 30-40 years of thought and work on something for it to really be history.” So, therefore, the job of teaching current events does not fall on history teachers because that is not what they are trained to do. 

The general consensus is that students benefit from occasional time spent talking about these current events in class to connect them to history but too much discussion about current events steers history classes away from their curriculum.