In defence of teaching History





This is my response to this article from The Irish Times.

You bet Junior-cycle reform remains a contentious topic! You bet many history teachers think it represents a threat to the subject we love!

The problem isn’t the breath of the current syllabus, but that when we were asked a decade ago to clean up the vast course we made recommendations about shortening it. Those recommendations are sitting on a shelf gathering dust somewhere in Marlborough St. That’s what happens when you consult teachers, sure you’d be better off not asking them for their opinions at all!

Teachable moments come thick and fast in history class, we know well how to turn dry topics like Gothic architecture or French revolutionary peasants (to pick two from today alone) into gold for students. Long gone are the days of ‘learn the textbook of by heart girls and boys’. We use twitter in their classrooms, we do project work on people in history, and debate the Treaty: that’s active learning. Change the History course, but don’t hollow it out by introducing short courses.

Suggesting that students will love history because they live near a round tower misses the point of local history: it illuminates the broader narrative, it isn’t the whole story. Saying schools will provide  short courses in ‘historical geography and archaeology’ begs the question, what’s the value of those pursuits for someone who wants to pursue History at Leaving Cert? Breadth of coverage isn’t everything but it allows a student to defer specialisation to as late as possible, one of the best features of the education we provide now.

Teachers don’t misunderstand ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ either: without knowledge the skill is impossible to master, without the skill the knowledge is meaningless That’s the reality of facing a group of 30 students every 40 minutes.

Meddle with that at your peril!


2 thoughts on “In defence of teaching History

  1. Reblogged this on John Hurley and commented:
    We really, really need to take on a number of opinions before going ahead with a new Junior Cert programme. I hope the minister will finally listen to teachers like Fintan

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