About a week ago I was lucky enough to spend four days in Tbilisi Georgia, as a part of an amazing Euroclio project: Innovating History Teaching in the Black Sea region.
It was an incredible experience and a brilliant project, aimed at getting history educators from across the region to share history teaching ideas on culture and multiple perspectives, so they can become more tolerant of each other.
Educators from Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan all worked together in harmony. Pretty impressive because some of these countries are war with each other!
It is a brilliant project which keeps teaching history as a discipline as its central thrust . It’s aims are the same as the true heroes in English history teaching: SHP:
- To get children and young people to become curious, to develop their own opinions and values based on a respect for evidence, and to build a deeper understanding of the present by engaging with and questioning the past.
Where is the irony in all of this you may ask? This is indeed noble work.
Well, carry on reading and you may spot it….
Across the region history is one of, if not the most important subject in the curriculum. It has traditionally been taught in the old Soviet brainwashing style: as facts to be remembered and regurgitated about each countries individual national story.
The pedagogical approach is too often that of remembering carefully selected official information. The more information kids can cram in their heads the better the marks they get in exams, the better they do, the better the job they will get.
The teacher tells the kids what to know – that the people and their country are great. There is no room for questioning the value of the evidence presented nor for allowing kids to form their own judgements or look at things from different perspectives. The exam system is based on remembering facts and there is little motivation to teach history as a discipline.
All the people I met want to try and change this. They are creating lesson plans and resources to share that attempt to teach history from different perspectives, that engage with evidence and help children work as real historians.
The great and inspiring people involved look to the West and to England in particular as the place to learn from. The place where history teaching is truly awe inspiring…all the stuff we take for granted they want their history teachers to be able to do (our principles for enquiry).They would give their right arm for a publication like Teaching History!
Spotted the irony?
Here is a group of dedicated people who are trying their hardest to overcome some serious barriers and improve the quality of history teaching. They want kids to look at both sides of the argument, to analyse evidence, to draw their own conclusions, to see how history is constructed.
They want to influence policy makers in their country to change the history curriculum to a more skills based curriculum and to look at content from different perspectives.
While all of this work is going on in really difficult circumstances, here we are in England with a Minister for Education who appears to want to do the exact opposite!
We have a proposed history curriculum which values content for content’s sake and values remembering information for its own sake above a real understanding of how history is constructed. In fact the way it has been put on the table appears to be decidedly undemocratic….
Kind of ironic, eh?
Anyway, to end this post I propose a toast, in respect of Georgian tradition, I raise a glass to Euroclio and all of the wonderful people involved in Innovating History Teaching in the Black Sea region! You truly are doing an amazing job – one which our policy makers could learn an awful lot from.