Saturday, June 2, 2018

Why on earth should we teach History?

Except for asking how wide the universe is and what we are doing here, there is no more difficult question than why and how to teach History. Presumably there is a purpose to it. What could that be? You can see why you teach language, or adding up, or geography. But why History?
Well, first 1] to educate the individual, just like any other subject, which may be seen as an end in itself; but 2] also to build a sense of citizenship?
2] is the hard part because it affects what you do whether you decide the purpose is to build citizens or definitely not to build citizens - citizens being people who will collectively accept the status quo: that the way things are done is 'right'.
Inevitably a politician will see 2] as essential, if not the priority. It is the nature of the job. Isn't the idea of a Minister of Education itself suspect? Won't the Minister just have History taught the way s/he sees the world and wants it to be seen? But then you can't teach revolution either. That's indoctrination too. Not to say unwise.
A good way round the question is to consult Historians, ask them why they write History. The explanation I tend to prefer is the one that simply says it is to understand why people did what they did in the past. But can you keep it even that honest without bias seeping in? Was King Shaka or Henry VIII or Herod the Great not so much great as a bit of a rotter actually?
Problems, problems. It's make your mind up time again, I'm afraid.

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