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History as a School Subject

Experience and Advantages in Examining History as a School Subject

The May, 2006 unveiling of Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth, caused an explosive interest in global warming. In January, 2007 the documentary was ranked the third highest grossing documentary and in February, 2007 the film won an Oscar (Hogue, 2007). The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change released a report stating that global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased significantly as a result of human activities since 1750. Currently exceeding pre-industrial values as determined from ice cores spanning many thousand years (Intergovernmental, 2007).

Students attending schools and colleges across the United States have embraced the quest for a solution to global warming, claiming it as a symbol for their generation. Classrooms are filled with students wearing clothing imprinted with environmental slogans and dire warnings. Educators should view this as an opportunity to capitalize on a teachable moment in the present and guide students to examine the social, political, economic and scientific implications of the past. The roots of the current ecological issues lie within the population explosion in the twentieth century, growing from two to six billion people. All of them, devouring the earth’s resources (Tucker, Grim, 2007).

A brief examination of some current research should be sufficient to inspire any educator to create a stimulating learning environment for our captive youth. A narrative study focusing on the sociological aspects of communities in relation to the natural environment found that respondents expressed attachment to specific elements of the natural environment primarily in context with the specific lifestyle it supports. Respondents acknowledged a collective concern for the rights of others in relation to the ability to enjoy and use natural assets. Changes to the natural environment had the potential to negatively impact the attachment to a community by affecting both social and economic dimensions (Brehm, 2007).

Does climate change affect the frequency of war? Scholars have long believed that organized armed conflicts and climate change are correlated. An anthropologic study of warfare throughout history reveals that temperature fluctuations directly impact agriculture, horticulture, exacerbate natural disasters and increase rates of disease among plants, animals and humans. Focusing on Eastern China during the last millennium, this recent study suggests that two periods of climatic cooling led to the eventual fall of the Ming dynasty (Zhang, Zhang, Lee, He, 2007).

Indur M. Goklany recently wrote that the excessive action by Americans in response to global warming will allow technology to mitigate a solution to the problem of global warming (Goklany, 2007). This controversial opinion could certainly spark an interesting classroom discussion. Students could explore recent technological advances in the fight against global warming.

The climate appears to be right for investigating the role of history in the midst of our current interest in global warming. Educators need to guide this generation of captivated learners through the wealth of information available. The history of the past can guide us to making the history of the future.

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