Tuesday, 21 October 2008

“Politicians should leave history to the teachers”
It is a popular and frequent demand, what The Age writer Tony Taylor asked for: “Politicians should leave history to the teachers”: Yes, right, but who should give the teachers the guidelines? Journalists? Committees? Boards? Expert panels? Tony Taylor is involved in the National Curriculum Board's school history deliberations. Sounds like a very respectable enterprise, but who appoints the board members? Politicians!

It seems, you cannot escape politicians when school curriculums are drawn up.

In his article Tony Taylor lead an attack against Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott who regretted “that there were not enough facts about English history in the current National Curriculum Board framing paper on school history”. Instead of a serious debate about history lessons – and Australian history lessons in particular – Taylor writes “the colonial cringe aspect of Abbott's remark was soon wittily countered by John Hirst's remark that Abbott remembered he was a (British) monarchist but forgot he was a (Roman) Catholic.”

I never considered Tony Abbott to be a British Monarchist. As a former Australian cabinet minister he is undoubtedly Australian and therefore he should be called an Australian Monarchist. And to be honest, I did not understand, why the description of him as a (Roman) Catholic was put in brackets. No one ever assumed Tony Abbott being a Maronite or a Chaldean Catholic, not even a Greek Catholic. Should this be a hint to the Act of Settlement? And should this be a particular problem for Tony Abbott?

Tony Taylor states: “It is generally the neoconservative side of partisan politics that, in a projectionist way, still sees history as a battleground for the hearts and minds of school students but which itself is keen to smear, interfere and impose.

My guess is that every politician sees history as a battleground. And everyone at the helm in the education departments wants to impose his or her points of view on the poor school pupils. But from my own experience I can appease both sides. Pupils tend to adopt the opposite points of view of their teachers and their curriculum providers. The political backlash comes with every new generation of school leavers. The once universally praised values of 1968 and the years following are today held responsible for all what is considered wrong in Western societies. Australia might not have the ideological fight over what 1968 student revolts brought, but take a short look at Europe, where this year a kind of war of words broke out on the 40th anniversary of the student riots and the rise of terrorist groups in France, Germany, Italy and other countries.

Taylor denounces “the belief that there is an immutable, factually objective historical truth out there that needs to be captured, brought into the classroom and drummed into student heads. This naive and simplistic analysis is totally evidence-free.” I can only agree with him. There is no “objective historical truth”, never has been, never will be. The way we see history changes constantly.

That should be taught to school children.

A good example how history is a constantly floating meandering river is the famous question that was put forward to the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, what he thought about the French Revolution.

Here are a few answers I found on the internet. You will notice that not only does the question vary, but also the time of the answer changes. And in the course of time other people were supposed to have given the answer.

This is Wikipedia's quote: Zhou Enlai is supposed to have said, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution: "It's too early to tell".

New World Encyclopedia: When China's Premier, Chou En Lai was asked in 1972 whether he thought the French Revolution had been a good or a bad thing. He mused for a few moments and then replied "It's too early to tell."

A Turkish website: Chou En-Lai, the late prime minister of communist China, was once asked what he thought about the French Revolution. He declined to comment, and explained, “It's too early to tell.”
That was in the early 1960s.

Good is this one from the Australian Government's Austrade site: As Chairman Mao said when asked what is the impact of the French revolution, he famously replied: “It is too early too tell.”

Dalton State College, USA: In 1989, at its 200th anniversary, a Chinese philosopher [Mao and Zhou were already dead by then, an anonymous author had to be found] was asked the importance of the French Revolution. He responded, "Too early to tell."

And here a website that gives the history teachers in general the credit:
how much does anyone know about the french revolution? i remember having an english professor who used to tell us that it’s too early to tell the effect of the french revolution.

What answer would politicians prefer? And what answer would history teachers give?

1 comment:

Dan said...

"The only thing that never changes is change itself."


Of course Buddha never said it, although I suppose he would agree with the sentiment (although I'm afraid he could have also agreed with the idea that change itself does change just like everything else), but who did? Have a look around the internet and let me know your conclusion.