Citizenship through Secondary History

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

Chapter 7

History, citizenship and diversity

Some principles, problems and past mistakes

There is nothing artificial about the link between history and citizenship. Whereas teachers in some school subjects may be scratching their heads and thinking that they have not really done much of this sort of thing before, it would be a fairly odd history curriculum which did not at some points raise questions about what it means to be a citizen, about different ideas of 'the good citizen' over time, and about the changing relationships between rulers and the ruled. Similarly, given that history involves the study of human behaviour over time, one obvious area of interest would be how different groups have related to each other and treated each other in the past, and what light this might throw on present and future relations between different groups in society. This is not a 'bolt-on' extra. Just as disciplines such as science and philosophy have their 'big questions', citizenship and diversity are at the heart of good, relevant history teaching: some of our 'big questions' are in this area.

History, well taught, can help to develop young people's intellectual autonomy, and 'informed and responsible scepticism' (Slater, 1989:16). In helping pupils to understand the factors influencing relations between different groups in society, history can help to develop 'a passionate drive for clarity, fair mindedness, a fervour for getting to the bottom of things, for listening sympathetically to opposing points of view, a compelling drive to seek out evidence, a devotion to truth as against self-interest' (Paul, 1998); or, put less elegantly by Postman and Weingartner (1998), history is a 'crap-detecting' subject.

One important proposition which will be advanced in this chapter, as a suggested principle of good history teaching, is that if school history is to be worthwhile, connections must be made between the past and the present. Aldrich (1997:3) makes the point that history is about human activity with particular reference to the whole dimension of time - past, present and future. Without the ability to make connections and comparisons with the present, what is the point of learning about the past? It becomes a harmless diversion, a quaint hobby like collecting matchboxes or trainspotting, and this is one of the reasons why some pupils think that history is 'boring and useless' (Adey, 2000; Price, 1968).

Is there any present-day problem or question into which it might not be possible to glean some further degree of insight by considering what has gone before? As Husbands (1996:34) notes:

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