I am not making the point that my personal interest lays much more in social history and also, if my dissertation is anything to go by, the history of the prison system. What I am trying to say is that actually school “history” is no more history than school “maths” could be considered history
Asking students to recall a lot of information about three given time periods and answer them in a formulaic pattern which can and will be taught from the start of the GCSE course is not history.
My passion for history as a subject was born out of my interest in reading as well as the fact that it was a subject I did well in. Essentially, when it came to me choosing my topics for study on the International Baccalaureate diploma I had a straight choice between History and Geography. Even though Geography offered a field trip to the French Alps I knew that I would get greater enjoyment from studying History for another two years instead of Geography.
I recall now writing my controlled assessment for my GCSE on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the excitement that the debate over the topic brought out in most of my classmates. That is real history: debate, opinions, and emotion, supported by the facts. History is not throwing a bunch of dates and people and events into a pre-learnt sentence structure in order to show the stressed out exam marker that you know what he or she is looking for.
In having this style of exams, we force teachers to teach to the exam (as much as we might like to deny this is the case) and we kill the creativity and flexibility of mind that history really deserves. Never mind the target driven culture of teaching which again pushes teachers further towards squeezing as many marks out of the students as possible.
Maybe it would be possible to really get into the history of the GCSE syllabus. Sometimes I think the students might not be able to understand what I am talking about, but they are certainly opinionated enough to have a decent debate.
I am just constantly scared that if we sit about and talk about history, and the impact that this nation has had on the world and what that means, then there is no tangible evidence of progress. This is where my real issue lies; how do I show students making progress every single lesson.
I can complain for days on end about the current curriculum that is taught in schools. Why do we focus on 1066 so heavily? I accept that it was an important date in the history of this country, but what do we do with that? How do we really explore it? Do we explain to the students in depth, especially those who chose to vote for a certain right-wing populist party in our school’s mock election, that essentially after 1066, countless numbers of those people who consider themselves to be British are actually French? How much do we explain that before the French, it was the Vikings? Why do the people of this country not know that they are a great, big bastardized mixture nationalities? We should be proud of this and celebrate it.
Maybe I should blame myself. Maybe I am quite simply some “lefty-liberal” who is trying to react against the recent growth in right win support in this country. Or maybe the illuminati does exist, and they have infiltrated the education system in such an intelligent way that people haven’t even realized that we are being brain washed into thinking that we haven’t had a devastating impact on large parts of the world.
I have an Irish colleague, who gives me much of the brunt of her issues with the English education system, mainly because of the history between our two nations. I agree with her. We should know more about what we have done to other countries and yet I am a walking, talking example of one of the uninformed English people she is talking about.
Chances are I am putting a lot of blame on the reforms made under the Conservative led coalition and they aren’t the only people to blame. I think history teaching in general just needs to focus less on the content and how we can possibly politicize that and more on the skills of history.
I understand that under current reforms there is actually greater freedom, but most of what people are planning around me is still content based rather than skills based. This is what needs to change for me about history, and maybe that needs to actually come from the bottom rather than the top.