Citizenship through Secondary History

By James Arthur; Ian Davies et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The moral dimensions of promoting citizenship through the teaching of history

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.

MacIntyre 1981: p. 244)


Introduction

At the turn of the last century the teaching of history was generally conceived by teachers in terms of a contribution to the formation of moral citizens. One of the chief arguments advanced for school history teaching was that it served as a vehicle for the moral instruction of British citizens. Not only is this widely contested today, but some teachers may even doubt whether there are any links between morality and the teaching of school history. MacIntyre (1981) interprets this association of history with morality as part of a general liberalism which has no coherent conception of the moral life and consequently ends up in moral subjectivism. It is not surprising that MacIntyre strikes an apocalyptic note in contemplating the last days of the Roman Empire; he pessimistically concludes that our civility and moral life are now in severe danger. It seems therefore timely to reconsider the moral nature and purposes of the study of history in classrooms. This chapter traces the development of moral and citizenship goals for history teaching and links this to the various purposes of and justifications for the place of history in the contemporary school curriculum. Government involvement in the political debate, principally through the construction of a National Curriculum, is also reviewed and analysed, together with the various views among the teaching profession about the use of history in schools. The chapter seeks to outline what the connections are and could be between citizenship, moral education and the teaching of history. Throughout this chapter it is recognised that, although some doubt it, there is indeed a close relationship between history teaching, moral education and citizenship.

School history has a moral dimension in the broad sense that any study of a people or a culture will normally engage the pupil in an examination of behaviour and institutions. Each culture will have its own norms which guide action and help its adherents preserve their identity. In teaching about different historical cultures, school history will offer pupils

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