Peter D’Sena - Leeds Metropolitan University, England
School History, Interculturalism and the Agenda for ‘British-World Citizens’ of the Future
Educational reform and the threat of government prescription in the late 1980s provoked a strong reaction from those involved in the teaching of history. Debates broadly about ‘content’, ‘skills’ and notions of ‘Britishness’ animated educationalists, parents, the media and government ministers into making pronouncements about what sort of history should be taught; the common denominator, whatever the disagreements, being an underlying acknowledgement of history’s importance in establishing and confirming values associated with citizenship. Almost a decade later it seems that the dynamism produced by the threat of the unknown has given way to a tendency of acceptance: many teachers (including myself) have, at some time, been concerned with demonstrating a kind of compliance with National Curriculum (NC) requirements rather than maintaining the consistent challenge of questioning its overall appropriateness for school pupils.
If we are to be optimistic, potentially a revised version of the NC is up for grabs: a timetable has already been established which could introduce changes for Key Stages 1 to 3 in September 2000. However, some of the alarmingly contradictory messages of the new Labour government have provided a timely warning against complacency and optimism: professionals aware of the urgency for re - thinking history in the classroom need to clearly and widely articulate their justifications and suggestions for doing so. The intention of this paper is to make a contribution to one aspect of that debate.
Institutional structures and practices and, more generally, narrow bigotries still militate against the equal progress of many in Britain: this and other, related issues need to be absorbed by educationalists and others with influence over the whole curriculum and its constituent parts. For history particularly, I would suggest the debates of the late 1980s, which went onto a back burner, need to be revived.
This paper rests on a number of basic premises. First, that a cursory and partial history, both in terms of content and approach, will only serve to promote and accentuate bigotries (and certainly it is cursory and partial, rather than plural and critical history that bigots prefer). Second, that if the teachers I train practise well into the 21st century, then the children they teach will live to see the 22nd. In short, then, what we teach may well help to shape views which will be at the root of current children’s thoughts and processes in 50 or more years time. In re - thinking history, therefore, we need to consider what the future will look like (and in doing so, we need to take the same sort of creative leap that educationalists of the 1890s would have required in thinking about women’s issues, say).
Let’s speculate. By the middle of the next century 30% of the workforce will be British / European black; more than one career will be the norm (and these will be in service industries); more will work at home; there will be lengthier retirements; the phrase ‘ethnic minority’ will not only be patronising, it will be wrong; third generation blacks in Britain will more clearly identify themselves as participants (and citizens) rather than as consumers of ‘Britishness; national and cultural identities will need constant reconsideration; shifts in racism from colour to culture will need to be addressed; a shrinking world will make human rights and global issues of real and immediate concern.
This paper will offer suggestions of how history in the classroom can be rethought, with a view to addressing such issues.