Friday, 1 March 2013

Professor Frank Furedi: history "has suffered most from the impact of the anti-intellectual ethos of contemporary pedagogy"

King George V and Queen Mary at the Imperial Durbar in New Delhi in 1911.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it".
George Santayana

University of Kent sociology professor Frank Furedi joins the UK debate on how history should be taught: 

Unfortunately, the current debate surrounding the new history curriculum is not so much about its intellectual content as how it should be taught. So when Richard Evans, the Regius professor of history at Cambridge, denounced the curriculum because it allegedly sought to restore the ‘rote learning of the patriotic stocking-fillers so beloved of traditionalists’, his main target was a pedagogic approach which he caricatured as traditionalist. His ire towards a pedagogy that assumes children should possess a sense of chronology and periodisation, and ought to be familiar with basic historical facts, is widely shared by the educational establishment.

Of all the subjects taught in the school curriculum, history is the one that has suffered most from the impact of the anti-intellectual ethos of contemporary pedagogy. In line with the vulgar tendency to promote key skills and downgrade the intellectual content of the subject, history today is taught as a series of discrete and unconnected episodes that are used as resources for developing children’s critical learning skills. The presentation of this modularised and fragmented past is justified on the grounds that facts, such as dates and names, are relatively unimportant. Instead, chronology and knowledge of the past are far less significant than the skills required to use them. According to this simplistic paradigm, skills trump knowledge.
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Whatever the weaknesses of Gove’s proposed curriculum, at the very least it assumes that students studying history need to have a knowledge of the past. That represents great progress over the current academic-lite history curriculum.
Advocates of skills-dominated education regard the understanding of the past as having little relevance today. What they focus on instead is a complex, ever-changing and technologically sophisticated world. From this perspective, real history has no intrinsic virtue other than as a vehicle to teach ‘key skills’.
It is important to recall that there has been a long legacy of denouncing ‘traditional’ history on the basis that it is not relevant. Sneering remarks about ‘rote learning’, about the irrelevant lives of ancient monarchs, communicate the idea that history is an outdated relic of the nineteenth-century educational establishment.
But why should the subject of history be seen as a hangover from a nineteenth-century curriculum? Why should a study of people’s historical legacy be represented as irrelevant? Of course, from an instrumental perspective, the study of this subject is entirely unnatural and unrelated to the experience of children. How can the study of sixteenth-century English history be of relevance to twenty-first-century children confronted with the challenges of a hi-tech, globalised world? Yet, properly understood, history is probably the subject that contributes most to the broadening out of the imagination. One of its purposes is to help children transcend their own immediate experience and gain an understanding of how a community has evolved and developed an understanding of itself. It is ironic that policymakers, who are obsessed with training children to adapt to change, actively devalue the academic study of change.

Read the entire article here

(bolded text by NNoN)

How right Furedi is. This is of course not a problem that affects teaching only in the UK. Unfortunately the views of the leftist "progressive" education establishment are still dominant  in most other western nations, too. 

1 comment:

A K Haart said...

"How right Furedi is."

He is. Always worth reading.