The importance of history teaching

There’s been a discussion in South Africa about making history compulsory to Grade 12 (aka Matric, A level equivalent, all school years). The comments are as expected – what will be taught, who decides, how to make a dull boring subject more appealing. The discussion aspect suggested was around teaching methodology and content. This, for me, is the wrong starting point and will only ensure we get into trouble by leaving some group out and opening up accusations of curriculum being used for political reasons.

The starting point is skills. History as a subject is highly complex as seen by the percentage of high flyers who studied history at university level. (2005 HE Academy; 2005 famous history graduates; 2010 UK Guardian; 2015 AHA on skills; 2017 perspective; 2017 Fortune 500 CEOs)

One of the concerning things when looking at the lists of people who studied history at university is the number of politicians – why are they making the same mistakes as in the past? This has led some people to think it’s not worth studying the subject, whilst another more tangible reason is that there is no obvious career route with history.

However, the tweet below says it best – the more people understand the past and why things are the way they are, the easier it is to effectively challenge. It levels the playing ground and for that reason alone, the subject should be taught all the way through school.
History = political life skills.

In addition, history helps develop an identity, problem solving skills, research skills, writing skills, logic and critical thinking.

Putting history in as a subject to the last year of school means that subjects such as citizenship, PSHE and the like would be integrated as they include some of the life skills needed to operate in a global world. The challenge is teaching teachers to teach the subject objectively and creatively – it can be done and for this I thank my history teacher (the same amazing woman, Mrs Amy Ansell for five years), Martin Doherty and Tony Gorst at Westminster Uni and my supervisors Profs Tony Stockwell and John Turner – all educationalists ahead of their time.

4 thoughts on “The importance of history teaching

  1. I agree completely, the greatest challenge would be to manage the proposed implementation of mandatory history (I think the date proposed is 2023) at teacher/ instructor level and eliminate personal, political bias. Which I can tell you is a daunting task.
    I also agree that the skill sets obtained within the subject is extremely valuable for university academics, how to do research, how to write and so forth. In general these are skills that not many of the other school level subjects teach.

    • Thanks Johann
      At least it’s not for implementation next year! It gives time for planning and training – let’s hope the time is used wisely.

      I was surprised to hear over the weekend, after I’d written the piece, that the UK has introduced a course to teach school goers how to discern true news from fake news – I recall that being an inherent part of our history education for many years. When I was still teaching I introduced a course on critical thinking to the college I was at because that was perceived to be a necessary skill (very few were studying history); only to discover the exam was the most formulaic I’d ever encountered. So it will be interesting to see how they assess and evaluate this new course. Bottom line for me – teach history skills!

  2. Pingback: Education and war | Anne Samson - Historian

  3. Hello Ann.. Yep, agree wholeheartedly that part of history education should be the understanding of research. I loved and still love history. At school I remember a certain National Party version being revised year after year as one went through high school to the detriment of many great facts and people that weren’t part of the National Party’s agenda. The same problem presents itself now again with the warped views that people who support the EFF for instance, have. Our greatest Statesman ever The Rt Hon, Field Marshall JC Smuts does not even get a mention…… We’ve got a long way to go I’m afraid.

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