TW Viewpoint | Does History Matter?May 6, 2022 | Michael Heykoop
Should we care about what happened in the past? As any good time-travel movie will tell you, changing the past is a very difficult thing to do. While the past cannot change, the lens through which it is viewed can shift dramatically and the question of whether it should be considered at all is one which must be examined. Is there value in learning about the past? Does history matter?
In recent years, many historical figures have come under fire for failing to live up to the moral values of the day. Past Prime-Ministers and Presidents have had their legacies attacked for not being woke-enough for today's self-appointed, virtue-signaling critics. One such example is prominent here in Canada: that of Sir John A MacDonald who has been a favourite target of such attacks. Sadly, what the modern discourse has unveiled is a society that is woefully unprepared for any type of real debate on matters of history.
A recently updated article in The Globe and Mail reported that:
"Four in 10 Canadians cannot name our first prime minister or identify the year of confederation. Young Canadians often know even less about our country's past than their parents or grandparents" (Marc Chalifoux and J.D.M. Stewart, "Canada is Failing History," The Globe and Mail, updated February 23, 2018).
You may be surprised to learn that completing a course in Canadian history in high school is mandatory in only four provinces. Geoff Currier summarized the problem for Global News:
"Sadly, all most Canadians know about Sir John A. is that he drank and helped create residential schools. A study of real Canadian history might provide a better understanding of the complexities of the man and the times in which he lived" (Geoff Currier, "Removing MacDonald's Statue Imposes Modern Values on Historical Figures," Global News, August 24, 2018).
Whether or not a specific statue remains standing, changes location, or is ground to dust is not the big picture. The sad truth is that we are throwing away much of our history, partly because historical figures are not studied and understood in the context of their times, but also due to our own failure to understand that history has been shaped by flawed individuals.
While it is not likely that MacDonald could be permanently expunged from Canada's public memory, other individuals of significance and the important stories and lessons they represent may be. Ultimately, the question is this: "Should we remember the achievements of supposedly flawed heroes?"
Many inspiring stories, poignant lessons, and elements of cultural context that have worked together to shape our modern society are now being overwritten, slandered, or simply forgotten. We are willfully dismissing the history that has shaped our society. Time will tell if our forgetfulness comes at a cost.