May 28, 2014

How to further Historical Thinking?

If "logistics" can be applied to social change, emotional change, political change, and ideaological change, then "logistics" is the heart and soul of historical thinking. But logistics is an art and science not easily acquired. Accordingly, and a bit depressingly, I have begun to doubt whether historical thinking is a realistic expectation to place upon any mass body of persons, at any time, ever.

It takes a cultivation of practical imagination to plan a trip, organize a party, schedule a factory, build a house, or invade Normandy. You can't begin to imagine how involved a simple enterprise can become, until you begin it. Take the common experience of painting a room. Why does it always take so much more time and trouble than most of us had expected? Because we were not accustomed to projecting logistical needs for tasks with that degree of complexity and such particular conditions.

Looking at my finished room project, someone without shared experience cannot fully grasp what it took to complete. How, then, can people without logistical training begin to think through all of History, logistically?

Just like physical projects, it takes a socio-logistical imagination to plan a political campaign, promote a gala, craft a marketing strategy, build a coalition, or foment a nationalism. Emotional and Ideaological changes are less commonly directable, but counselors, therapists, and professional scholars understand that such "human projects" or "mindset adjustments" can be envisioned, if less often attempted, and perhaps rarely (deliberately) accomplished.

In such fields, those with experience at constructing and safe-guarding logistic success are the same ones quickest to recognize how and why other successful campaigns managed to anticipate and adjust for potholes, pitfalls, land mines, and carefully laid traps. It takes experience to appreciate experience. Building a house can help someone appreciate starting a business, and running a kitchen can build appreciation for mobilizing a film crew, and a high society maven knows a lot about how the young debutantes think, and plenty of local politicians have gained enough of a taste to lose all appetite for pursuing higher office. It takes "logistical" knowledge to anticipate our own futures and reconstruct others' pasts.

So, if project planning experience is a requisite precursor to reconstructing the past actions (and distractions) of others, then few persons will ever learn how to DO history.

Ruby Payne (anecdotally) deduced that young people raised in generational poverty have fundamental difficulties when social studies and reading tests ask "cause & effect" questions. Payne theorized that if we don't know where tonight's dinner is coming from, we don't give much thought for tomorrow. Exponentially worse, if tonights's dinner usually shows up somehow or another, then futures are left up to "magical thinking". Storytelling in low socio-economic circles becomes disorganized, non-linear and haphazard narratives abound, and answering a direct question can require lengthy digressions or facts that seem logically unrelated. "Why were you tardy?" can be a social adventure. If reconstructing such stories requires patience from educators, how can the historical narratives of our educators be transferred to such students? 

What good is History teaching, for brains without proper four-dimensional training?

And since we're all on a sliding scale with these issues, somewhat...

What good is historical writing, for brains that are self-absorbed and obsessed with the present?

I actually do have an answer. As daunting as the problem seems, I must remind myself that there is something we can do. And we need to do it a LOT.

Tell stories... 

*sorry, blogging by iPhone. I'll embed this link later.

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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton