Disturbing History's Identity in the New Zealand Curriculum to Free Up Historical Thinking

By Hunter, Philippa | Curriculum Matters, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Disturbing History's Identity in the New Zealand Curriculum to Free Up Historical Thinking


Hunter, Philippa, Curriculum Matters


Introduction

This paper critiques the reclaiming of a traditional orientation of history in the New Zealand curriculum, and seeks to make sense of history's curriculum identity for pedagogy in 2011. As a socially constructed curriculum subject, history's identity reflects a cultural memory and prevailing discourses about what constitutes history in secondary schooling. In my view, a traditional history discourse has been reclaimed through two decades of educational reforms (1989-2011) and trickledown policy mechanisms that embed social efficiency discourses. The language and controls of standards and compliances appear to have "re-regulated" (Ball, 2003) history teachers' work and history's curriculum identity. These values are embedded in curriculum and assessment standards and preferred knowledge and skills. They are also played out in pedagogy.

The notion of history's identity is broadly conceived through the paper as: the representation of a curriculum construct; a focus for conceptual understanding; claims to knowledge and meaning making; and perceptions and expectations of history in a national curriculum. History's curriculum identity need not be an abstract shaping that sits distanced from the society we live in. The history curriculum must be open to disturbance and critique of its nature and purpose for the education of young adults in New Zealand in 2011 and beyond.

The paper opens with glimpses of my engagement with history curriculum as a teacher educator and the professional disturbance that I negotiate in my history practitioner and research roles. I then locate my professional identities in contexts of history curriculum policy initiatives over two decades of New Zealand educational reforms, and reflect on an increasing sense of curriculum disturbance from a critical pedagogy stance. This supports a focus on identifying traditional/conservative and alternative/counter history orientations and unpacking "official history" in the revised New Zealand curriculum (The New Zealand Curriculum or NZC, Ministry of Education, 2007). History as cultural reproduction in the Social Sciences learning area in NZC curriculum policy is briefly discussed. The last section presents an alternative/counter orientation to history that opens up possibilities for historical thinking as a point of departure for professional conversations and pedagogy beyond prevailing curriculum conceptions of history's identity.

Disturbance in the history curriculum

I call back voices from recent experiences of history curriculum contexts and conversations (2008-10) to reveal something of the personal and professional disturbance I mediate in my work as a teacher educator:

I just want it to be nice, Pip. I haven't studied history like this ...!

--Sussi, a history graduate, expressing her dismay at engaging with concepts of racism. My history curriculum class was exploring how history students in Year 13 might interpret Parliamentary debates in the context of 19th century New Zealand immigration as representations of dominant cultural beliefs of racial superiority.

She lacks just about everything in her teaching. She doesn't know anything about history!

--Mike, an associate teacher, casting judgement on his student, Jana, during a school practicum visit I made to evaluate Jana's history pedagogy. Jana, a beginning history teacher, had a recent master's degree in history and politics.

Come on, Pip, history's an intellectual subject--family history is not!

--Sam, an experienced history teacher, was responding to my thoughts about ways students' historical knowledge might be used in the wider society of which they are a part. The setting for this was a curriculum hui where history research findings were disseminated.

There's no such thing as social history any more--that women's health topic is not taught any longer in NCEA history . …

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