Write Team: Learn about the past, make a better today

“The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.” – Abraham Lincoln

History is not boring.

Perhaps memorizing dates and facts about something that happened long ago seems dull and irrelevant. Who cares about events that happened centuries ago? If we can’t make a connection, it may seem pointless.

Museums and artifacts assist us in making those connections. When we look after items from long ago, we gain respect and an understanding for the cultures and traditions that came before us.

Examining the past is more than tedious memorization. It is the catalyst for examination; for growth and appreciation. And ultimately, to learn what worked well and what did not. How can we leave this world a better place for our children and grandchildren?

Some of what we learn is not pretty or pleasant. People have been ugly to each other, and life was harsh and unfair. It still is some days.

But we have opportunities to do better and make unselfish choices that will join our experiences with what is yet to come.

Lincoln’s reference masterfully reminds us that what we do now will affect future generations just as the past affected the present. There is a long chain of links, stretching beyond us after we are gone. We cannot change the past, but we can influence the future.

When I am sharing lessons with children in The Little Red Schoolhouse, I want to immerse them in ideas and images that are unfamiliar to their modern minds. Then, they are able to make connections to our present-day lives. How were children’s lives different in 1885? How are they the same? Stretch your imagination.

Every scribbled note, every stain on a desk, every creaky floorboard has a story to tell.

One of my favorite pieces in our one-room school is a worn, wooden box. The black paint has faded, and the straps connecting the lid to the box are loose. A narrow slit was carved in the lid, and there is a keyhole on the front that is missing its hardware.

It appears to be just an old, dusty box.

Until you open it. Written on the inside, in beautiful old-style script, are a few lines. “4 April, 1881. 1 feet snow on the level. Election Day.”

Suddenly, our minds are clicking. What was the election? Who was running? Who won? Snow in April?

There’s a story. And when we learn that this box came from Dayton School and that the election was most likely held in that one-room schoolhouse, more questions and discussions come forth. Whose handwriting is that? Is the slit on the top for paper ballots? Why did people vote in a schoolhouse?

Who saved that box?

We are surrounded by rich history, both locally and globally. I tell the children that it now falls to us to be the stewards; the ones who save the stories and make the connections. When we learn about the past, we make a better today, which leads to a stronger future.

Linked together. What a reassurance. What a responsibility.

• Karen Roth is a semiretired librarian/educator living in Ottawa. She can be reached at dbarichello@shawmedia.com.