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Will School History survive the Decade of Commemorations? Niamh Crowley, P.R.O., H.T.A.I. H.T.A.I. Seminar, Collins Barracks, 23rd March 2013 For further information www.htai.ie/threattohistory.html
What do we mean by this question? On the one hand the country led by the Government is embarking on a very public programme of commemoration of the significant developments which marked the second decade of the 20th century. A Government Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations [chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning] has even been put in place. But on the other hand the Minister for Education has launched a review of junior cycle education which includes a proposal to remove History from the core of Compulsory subjects.
This framework Document proposes a radical overhaul of the Junior Cycle Curriculum and AssessmentAt the heart of this Framework Document is the idea that junior cycle education should be informed by 24 Statements of Learning
This could be an unbelievably comprehensive education or it could just be meaningless platitudes
Statements and Subjects If these 24 statements are a comprehensive list of “what students should know, understand, value and be able to do at the end of Junior Cycle.” then surely they should feed into a common core curriculum of subjects which students should study in order to achieve them. Why then does the framework say that only “English, Mathematics and Irish will feature in the junior cycle programme for all students?” How can the other subjects become discretionary?
Take history for instance ……. We might think that Statement of Learning number 8 refers specifically to History But according to Appendix 1 of the framework document any of the subjects listed on the right here [or even a short course or a learning experience in these subjects] could contribute to this statement of learning.
This applies to every statement that we think has relevance for History:- in each case a whole range of subjects, short courses or learning experiences could contribute ….. eg: statement numbers: 3. creates, appreciates & critically interprets a wide range of texts 6. appreciates & respects how diverse values, beliefs & traditions have contributed to the communities & cultures in which she/he lives 7. values what it means to be an active citizen with rights & responsibilities in local and wider contexts 9. understands the origins & impacts of social, economic & environmental aspects of the world around them 16. describes, illustrates, interprets, predicts & explains patterns & relationships 18. observes & evaluates empirical events & processes & draws valid deductions & conclusions
The Threat to History A school [Principal] can design a junior cycle curriculum based on these 24 statements which could completely eliminate History, offer it as a choice, or merely provide it as a ‘short course’ or ‘learning experience’. Surely this ‘food pyramid’ approach to curriculum design is not based on a valid educational premise.
Dept of Education - Ireland one statement of Learning in a list of 24 History not part of the Core of subjects The European Assembly Historical awareness should be a part of the education of all young people. The teaching of History should enable pupils to acquire critical thinking skills to analyse and interpret information effectively and responsibly, to recognize the complexity of issues and to appreciate cultural diversity. “Values local, national and international heritage, understands the importance of the relationship between past and current events and the forces that drive change.” [A Framework for the Junior Cycle. Oct 2012] “The subject matter of history teaching should be very open. It should include all aspects of societies (social & cultural history as well as political). The role of women should be given proper recognition. Local and national (but not nationalistic) history should be taught as well as the history of minorities. Controversial, sensitive and tragic events should be balance by positive mutual influences” [Recommendation 1283 (1996) on history and the learning of history in Europe] The Role of History: how does the Department’s approach compare with what Europe recommends?
Why we [H.T.A.I.] believe History needs to be taught as a discipline and in a systematic way in Junior Cycle of Post-Primary school • We believe that History is a discipline, and to benefit from its educational potential students need at some stage in their school experience to study it in a systematic and disciplined way • The nature of the study in Primary school is necessarily limited by the capacity and understanding of the children at that stage of development. History should be taught at a stage where young people’s cognitive development is beginning develop into abstract reasoning. • History in post-primary school is taught by specialist History teachers. With the best will in the world Primary teachers can not be experts in or enthusiastic about every subject. • There is a broad body of historical knowledge to which young people should be introduced at a stage at which they can understand it in some significant way. Complete ignorance of history will lead to myths and distortion about their history.
But we are not the only ones who believe in the importance of an historical education – look at Taoiseach’sSpeech - Enda Kenny, National Library, 8th June 2011 “As we move into the decade of commemorations that stretch before us, from the 100th anniversary of the Third Home Rule Bill, the Ulster League and Covenant, the foundation of the Ulster and Irish Volunteers, the Dublin Lockout, 1916, the Somme, and beyond it is imperative that the social, cultural, economic, administrative and political environments that shaped these events be understood. …. All of us can recall when we were growing up our parents or grandparents reflecting on events in their time, their remembrances and experiences that stretch back to 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War – events we are going to commemorate in the forthcoming decade. History is that close to us. Subliminally our initial opinion was shaped by how we grew up and what we heard. Many of us went on to benefit from a great education system and solid historical research and made up our ownminds”.
And the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, Celtic Congress, 1st August, 2011 “the more we understand the past the more we understand ourselves and our neighbours. … the more we Europeans share sovereignty within the European Union the greater the need for us to deepen our own identity so that whatever unity we create rests on the solid foundation of popular consent – a consent that comes from a true realization of who it is we are and why we need to work together in unison.”
We do accept that both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education believe what they say about the value of History in a civilised society, and do value the historical education they received ……… But do they value them enough to ensure that every school student receives an entitlement to this education?The framework Document will not give them this entitlement
Student Entitlement? Schools having flexibility? • Every student is entitled to a systematic and comprehensive History education as part of the core Curriculum. H.T.A.I. Position “Schools will have the flexibility to decide what combination of subjects, short courses or other learning experiences will be provided in their three year programme.” A framework for junior Cycle Which is more important to a sound education?
Why would anyone who promotes the value of a national entitlement to education leave the choosing of the subjects children study to the discretion of the local school [Principal] to decide? In the current climate of educational cutbacks, local school decisions may be made on the basis of staffing and We have seen from the experience in Britain what happens when there is local flexibility for curriculum decisions?
Are we following good international practice in proposing this change? The Minister is proposing a new curriculum framework where History, as a subject, would not be compulsory in Ireland from age 12 “In England, history is currently not compulsory for students beyond the age of 14. . . . England is unique in Europe in this respect. In almost all the countries of the European Union, it is compulsory to study history in some form in school until at least the ages of 15 or 16..” [History For All – History in Schools 2007/10, Ofsted March 2011]
Choice at local level has led to social divide “In fact, across the UK, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been systematically steered away from academic subjects to be placed on grade-inflating semi-vocational GCSEs. All too often, these provide neither the skills which employers require nor a route into further education.” [Tristram Hunt, “If we have no history, we have no future”, The Observer, 28 Aug 2011]
What are they concluding in Britain? “This report demonstrates how the study of History, a subject which should unite us as one nation, has now become the subject of two nations. In entire communities and schools, often in some of the most deprived areas of the country, the study of history has been shunned; elsewhere, it has become the preserve of more affluent areas and schools. This cannot be healthy for the future of the nation- indeed, for our own national identity; we must seek to end the current situation where two worlds can sit side by side, not understanding our common history and shared values. History has a crucial role to play in defining these, and more must be done to transform and reinvigorate the study of a subject so vital to our national identity. [Chris Skidmore M.P., History in Schools- A School Report, 2012,]
“However, we are concerned about the wide educational divide in this country when it comes to studying History, which is that in affluent areas History is studied well and widely, whereas in many more deprived areas it has been neglected and ignored. It is important that the Department for Education does not allow perverse incentives to develop, which might suppress the take-up of History in poorer areas.” “History for All?” House of Commons Report on Archives & History
In Britain now proposals are being made to reverse their earlier policy and raise the age up to which History is part of the core Specifically we recommend that, in addition to existing arrangements, curricular provision in the following subjects should be made statutory at Key Stage 4: Geography, History, modern foreign languages [The framework For The National Curriculum: A report by the Expert Panel Dec 2011]
Once the provision for History is removed from a cohort in school then it creates a difficulty for reversal of this decision because the teachers are not there “History to 16 for all seems an unlikely prospect at present, unless more resources are diverted into the training of specialist history teachers. However, the offer could gradually be introduced by schools who are willing to do so- the government should allow all schools the freedom to replace citizenship lessons with History.” “History for All?” House of Commons Report on Archives & History
What are we doing? • Is it a good idea to reform the Junior Cert? Yes, we agree • Is it a good idea to promote an education that will help students to think more critically and more independently? Yes, we agree • But does it make sense to dismantle subject disciplines in order to do this? We don’t think so
Are we ‘Luddites’? • We want a Junior Cert Curriculum which allows us to teach and the students to learn in a richer and more effective way which will allow them to develop the critical thinking skills for which History provides such rich potential. • We have actively participated in a curriculum development process with the N.C.C.A. which proposed a rebalanced Junior Cert. Syllabus which would have allowed the space and time to do this. Where is it? • We know that the current Junior Cert. History exam does not facilitate this and we have long called for its reform in conjunction with the rebalance mentioned. Where is it?
What do we want? A curriculum provision where History would be taught as a subject for 3 periods a week for 3 years It’s not too much to ask
The Good News …… • The Minister did take on board the concern of ourselves and many others that restricting the Junior Cycle certification to only 8 subjects [or subject equivalents] as proposed by the N.C.C.A. was too narrow and has made provision for 8 to 10 subjects. • This does mean that most schools do not have to narrow the provision of subjects that they offer away from what they are doing at present.
But the bad news ……. • Schools can still restrict their provision to 8 subjects [or subject equivalents] and narrow the experience of students and create difficulties for choice of subjects for senior cycle. • Whether a school chooses to provide 8 or 9 or 10 subjects; there is no compunction on them to make History one of these.
This is why we think that the position of History as part of the core, and the entitlement of students to study history in the Junior Cycle needs to be safeguarded. We do not think there is any educational, cultural, social, economic or political foundation for what this framework Document is proposing to do.