School & Career

What is The Point in Learning … History

Have you ever sat in a Maths class wondering if you will ever have to do long division without a calculator once you leave school? Or silently cursed your Geography teacher while learning about the formation of oxbow lakes?
And History? That’s all in the past and irrelevant, isn’t it? In this series of articles, we will look at some of the subjects we learn at school, and try and answer the question: What’s the point in learning this?

Last time we looked at uses of Physics, both in day to day life, and in careers. Today we will focus on History – the study of the past and how our society came to be as it is. Here are some ways in which studying History is useful to us:

 

Critical Thinking

Thinking by Elisabeth Haslam

Thinking by Elisabeth Haslam

When we study history we don’t just learn lists of facts and dates off by heart. We read lots of opinions about what happened and why, and come to our own conclusion. We base these opinions on two types of material, primary sources which are texts and drawings created at the time of the history we are studying, and secondary sources which were written after the event. Did you know that historians are still arguing over what Henry VIII and his six wives did almost 500 years ago? And that all of them have solid reasons for thinking the way they do? Was he mad? Was he evil? Was he misunderstood? Was he a devout, religious man? Why did he do the things he did?

Well if you read about this time in history, you can come to your own conclusions. Reading in this way is part of the skill called Critical Thinking, which means that you don’t accept everything you see at face value. This is a skill which you will need throughout your life.

 

Hobbies

 

Photo by Timberland Library

Photo by Timberland Library

What do you like to do in your spare time? A sport? Cooking? Playing a musical instrument? Painting? Whatever your hobby it will have started at some point in history. Yes, even computer games. And looking at the history of what you like doing, right from the beginning, can help you understand your hobby even more than you do. Do you like reading books? Do you know who printed the first books? And what about the history of banned books?

 

The Present

Photo by Liz Jones

Photo by Liz Jones

History has made us what we are. The decisions and actions of our ancestors have shaped the world we live in today. The origins of conflict all over the world can be explained by history. The way our streets have been laid out, why our homes look like they do, why we have the laws we live by, even how our bodies developed in the way they develop. Whatever you look at it has roots in history. Have you ever wondered why we eat with knives and forks but some other cultures use chopsticks? History will tell you. Everything about us is a product of our history.

 

Concentration Skills

Photo by Edmund Chung

Photo by Edmund Chung

I’m not going to lie to you. History isn’t an easy subject, and depending on what you find interesting some sections may even be quite boring. There is a lot of reading, especially towards the end of secondary school, of sometimes quite long and difficult texts. However, it is important in this time of working with several screens at once, and reading the news in bite-sized pieces, to be able to concentrate. Imagine if one day you want to be a surgeon or an air traffic controller? Or even if you just want to drive a car. Learning how to concentrate for long periods is a good skill.

 

Reasoning and Writing Skills

History will teach you how to write. How to work out an opinion and give it, but, more than that, support it. You will learn to put an argument forward and back it up with reasons you think this way. You’ll be able to write complex texts showing the reader that you understand what you are talking about. Easier said than done. Your ability to debate will help you in everyday relationships as well. There are countless times in our lives when we need to be able to give an opinion and back it up. Being able to  give a reasoned argument is a key skill that history will teach you.

 

So, a better knowledge of who we are and how we came to be, the ability to read and to argue our point of view are all parts of why History is not only interesting but useful. But what careers will use the skills we learn at school?

 

Jobs that Use History

 

TV and Film

Photo by Howard

Photo by Howard

Apart from the whole channels dedicated to historical documentaries, which obviously are made by people interested in history, many films and TV shows are based in a past time.

Costumes, lighting, use of language and household implements among many other things need to be realistic, believable, if not always strictly accurate (look up historical inaccuracies in films if you want a laugh).

TV and Cinema are tough fields to break into, but a solid knowledge of history and the ability to research, learned during History lessons at school, are a good foundation.

 

Politics

There are lots of jobs suitable for people with good history skills in politics. Firstly it is useful for politicians and their advisers to know about the past, what has shaped society, and what has made the people they represent who they are.

Secondly, the writing skills learned during History – the ability to write a persuasive argument – is key to writing a political speech or drafting other documents.

 

Librarian

Photo by Rachel Vacek

Photo by Rachel Vacek

Your local library is the best place to start if you are interested in the history of your area. And the person who can help you with your project is your librarian.

Apart from being a skilled organizer, analyst and data manager (skills learned in History class) your librarian will be able to advise on where to find information, where to look and will also have access to archives of newspapers and other local records.

 

 

 

 

 

You can see that History can teach you lots of skills as well as knowledge, and can be used in very different careers. Here are some more careers which use historians’ skills: lawyer, archaeologist, researcher, archivist, teacher, journalist.

 

 

The featured image is the Natural History Museum in London

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School & Career, Science, Nature and Tech

What is the Point in Learning Chemistry?

learning chemistry

Have you ever sat in a Maths class wondering why you will ever need to be able to do long division without a calculator? Or silently cursed your Geography teacher while learning about the formation of oxbow lakes? And History?
That’s all in the past and irrelevant, isn’t it? In this series of articles we will look at some of the subjects we learn at school, and try and answer the question: What’s the point in learning… Chemistry?

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School & Career

What is The Point in Learning Biology?

Last time we looked at uses of English, both in day-to-day life and in careers. Today we will focus on Biology – the study of life and living organisms in more detail that you could ever think necessary. So how is Biology useful in our day to day lives? How can we put the skills learned in Biology to use?
Here is where to find BIOLOGY … every day and everywhere

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School & Career

What is The Point of Learning English?

Have you ever sat in a Maths class wondering why you will ever need to be able to do long division without a calculator? Or silently cursed your Geography teacher while learning about the formation of oxbow lakes? And History? That’s all in the past and irrelevant, isn’t it?

In this series of articles we will look at some of the subjects we learn at school, and try and answer the question: What’s the point in learning this?

 

 

Last time we looked at uses of Maths, both in day to day life, and in careers. Today we will focus on learning English. Once we have learned how to read, write and spell, what is the point? Will we ever need to quote Shakespearian sonnets? And who, other than writers, needs to be able to write stories and poems?

 

 

Have you ever heard the expression “The pen is mightier than the sword?” As some people use physical strength to win a battle, for those of us who aren’t the confrontational type the use of words can be as, and often more effective, in winning our battles. Think about it. What would the world be like if every time someone annoyed us we went and pushed them around or worse?

There will be many times in your lives where you have to confront someone, either by email, letter or face to face. Using a wide variety of words correctly, and being able to put your point across clearly is more likely to keep people on your side and gain their respect. English teaches you how to do this, to control the language you use and how to use it effectively. Reading increases your vocabulary – the range of words you can use – and these words are tools which you will use all your life to make what you say worth listening to.

 

Culture. English Literature opens our eyes to what we are, as a society, and how we got here. We can see how attitudes to all kinds of issues, such as marriage, women’s equality and poverty have all developed. When Shakespeare wrote his plays they were designed to entertain people of the 16th century, so reflect the issues and attitudes of the time.

If you want to know what life was like for the poor in the 19th century, then Charles Dickens demonstrates it in several of his books. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters wrote about issues affecting women in the 19th century, a surprising number of which are still very relevant today.

 

Challenge and brain training. Reading is easy isn’t it? Well, once you’ve mastered the basics for most of us it is. But some books are very hard to read, using language from the past, or more complex language than we are used to. The books they choose for you to read at school are sometimes challenging, but this is all to do with brain training.

Concentration on and the ability to properly analyse texts will serve you well in the future when, for example, you’re reading an employment contract, or the paperwork that comes with your insurance policies. The small print. Dull but ever so important.

 

 

Current affairs. What is going on in the world? Where do you find out? TV News? Newspapers? Twitter? There are numerous times on a day to day basis where awareness of what is happening both at home and abroad is necessary. It comes up in conversation all the time.

English teaches you to read or listen critically, by which I mean to actively question the information you are given. This might not sound important, but can you imagine if everyone just accepted what was told to them by the media and believed everything they read? We need to be able to form our own opinion, and the work we do in English, the critical analysis, helps us learn to do that.

 

 

Speaking out. Or speaking up. Or, just, speaking. Have you needed to give a talk or a presentation in class? It’s quite frightening at first, standing up in front of several or more people and speaking to the group but it is something we have to learn to do because in real life it’s very common.

In English at school we have our first experience of public speaking, and this experience will help you in all kinds of jobs, but also in your social life. If you are the kind of person who dreads the spotlight, learning to cope with it may help you overcome shyness and feel less awkward.

So, words to help us communicate more easily, a better knowledge of the society we live in, the ability to be critical and analytical and the confidence to speak in front of people and make yourself be heard are some of the reasons we study English at school.

But what careers will use the skills we learn at school. The short answer is any career you can think of. Honestly. But let’s look at three more specifically:

 

Lawyer. Solicitors, barristers, paralegals and judges all make great use of English. Barristers stand up and debate in court, one against another, trying to persuade the judge or jury that their case is the right one. Before they get to court solicitors prepare the arguments, doing copious amounts of reading, working through masses of documents and evidence to build up a persuasive case.

Lawyers also help people in trouble, and draft letters for their clients. They also write contracts for individuals and companies. If you enjoy writing, reading, debating, so if you enjoy English, law is a real possibility for you.

 

Marketing and advertising. Advertisers use words and images to persuade us to buy what they are selling, be that a drink, perfume or insurance product. It is a career for people who enjoy the creative aspect of language use, or who are good at picking the right words for the right circumstances, which are both skills developed in English.

 

Speechwriter. When the PM or other politician gets up and gives a speech about, for example, education, it is very rare that he has written the speech himself. There are entire teams of people behind the scenes who write, review and rewrite the speeches that politicians make, trying to ensure that the speech gets a clear message across. The speeches use language to persuade us that what the speaker is doing is right, or that what another politician is doing is wrong. And the basis of these speeches use the skills we learn in English.

 

 

Studying English at university is often wrongly described as being a soft, or easy subject. This isn’t the case, and if you want to read more about it then have a look here: http://www.whystudyenglish.ac.uk

Writing dissertations, effective communication, giving presentations, putting forward an argument, reading difficult texts are skills necessary whatever the subject. Here are some more ideas for you to consider: journalist, politician, administrator, teaching English abroad, editor, technical writer…

 

 

Featured Image – JumpGrump, with Grumpy Dog Neil Conway

 

Rebecca Lee is a freelance writer, translator and coach who lives in France. In her spare time she enjoys history, cooking, travelling and reading.

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