Intense History

Joel Hernandez
Insights Newsletter
8 November, 2019

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” – unless it was too intense and bad for our mental health.

Wait, no, that’s not right. That last bit was added by Instagram influencer Freddie Bentley in an interview with Good Morning Britain last Friday.

In a recent episode of “The Apprentice”, one team struggled to state the year in which World War II began (1939). In response, Bentley said students shouldn’t have to learn about one of the most horrific events in history because “it’s so intense” and harmful to young people’s mental health. 

Does this mean school kids shouldn’t learn about the atrocities enacted by Stalin, Mao or Mussolini, either? Should we whitewash from our collective consciousness the history of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and fascist Italy just because they are pretty intense, too?

Instead, Bentley suggests schools teach the implications of current events like Brexit and climate change.

I don’t know whether Bentley has been keeping up with Brexit and climate change, but neither topic is exactly mellow or peaceful.

How do you teach school kids about the implications of Brexit without understanding British history, and the origins and evolution of Europe and international trade?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure British MPs or even the PM understand Brexit at this point. It has become so complex and convoluted that I’m sure only a handful of people in the world really understand what’s going on.

The Initiative’s own executive director, Oliver Hartwich, writes a lot about Brexit knowledgeably.  Except he could say or write almost anything about the United Kingdom and Boris Johnson, and I wouldn’t have a clue whether he is making it up or not.

As for the other top dinner party discussion, British psychologists are saying children are increasingly suffering eco-anxiety over the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

If writing about the causes of WWII was stressful, imagine the trauma of writing a 2,000-word school essay on the impacts of Brexit or solutions to climate change.

Each assignment would have to come with a trigger warning on the front cover.

It’s not like Brexit and climate change aren’t important – they are. But without background knowledge of the world – warts, wonders, warlords and all – it is difficult, nigh impossible to understand the twists and turns of Brexit or what to do about climate change.

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