My framework for teaching history

Often wondered what history and history teaching is all about...??

Is history a mere study of the past? Does accumulation of information about the past tantamount to mastery of history?? I have always maintained that if history is seen through such a prism, it becomes a task to labour on history's 'merits' or 'relevance. What purpose does it serve to know history merely in such terms? Yeah...one can win few quizzes or at best it can be one of the optional papers for the IAS exams...and then?? And then nothing....



So what if we were to look at history as something which helps one to develop historical thinking?? Just like we attribute the generation of scientific thinking to the study of science, how about looking at history as a discipline which helps in evolving historical thinking?? Now what is historical thinking??

My take - History's ability to make itself more relevant is perhaps based on the approach of looking at history or looking at the past as a process rather than looking at the past in a very empirical fashion in an encasulated water tight time frames i.e. as something which happened in the past and the past ends at a particular point of time. For example popular wisdom and even academic wisdom has it that India's past began some 5000 years ago (approx 3000 BC) and ended some 60 years back in 1947. This past is then defined by certain epochs which are primarily determined by changes in the political domain. Ergo you have important dates, important events, important personalities, important battles, et al. Under such an approach one would notice there is little bearing or rather little possibility of bearing on us today. Like I'm code jockey or some techno geek and I cant fathom how something from our collective past (for example what happened sometime in 1206 AD or 263 BC??) would in any way help me to become a better jock?? True...no bearing, no relevance at all.

But if we were to look at history as a process, where things that happen in the past are actually determined by things that are happening in the present??!!!

What the...!!! Is not past the same whatever be the difference in present?? How can we allow our present to determine the past?? How can past change or have multiple meanings for whenever things happen they happen and we cannot make the past happen all over again?? Like there is something like objectivity in History..Is it not?? True. Things that happened in the past cannot be undone by the present but...Let me explain...

What if we tell this code jockey that the C++ or Java programming that s/he is employing and the kind of thinking, reasoning that goes behind this has followed a certain trajectory which had its origins sometime in the past?? In other words if this joc starts looking into the past of programming language - the hows and whys of it...not so much the wheres, whats and whens of it, it is possible that s/he will delve into that part of the past which hardly figures in our conventional consciouness and understanding of past. This approach may well be very specialised but then it is possible to link some of the important breakthrough in the evolution of coding language i.e. binary system, algorithms, googlean...(watever) to the larger political, social, economic, cultural, religious changes happening in the world or in a particular society at the time when these breakthroughs were acheived. It will then dawn on us that many technological changes/innovations emerge in certain context not simply (note, not simply) because of the genius of certain individuals. Likewise in the present even in our specialised domain of software, bio-technology, medicine, mecahnical engineering etc there are so many other factors that shape and limit our profession, and our ability to master it, which goes beyond mere grasp of core specialisation or subject competence i.e. things that are internal to the subject.

We need to understand that there are factors in our specialised disciplines which is hemmed in by certain sociological, economic and importantly historical forces. But these forces act in a fashion where they cannot be seen very obviously or empirically but can be seen only when we take the effort to consciously study the past. This is where history and historians come in.

So here the past becomes a process where we chose to look at that aspect of the past which interests us. A past which actually did not exist till we started asking some particular questions from our present.

In other words when making a case for studying past as a process, I'm also making a case for more holistic and comprehensive approach to our past which goes beyond the chronological and political. In this context borrowing ideas from political thought, philosophy, linguistics and economics like Marxism, Sasuurean linguistic structuralism and Foucaultian and Derridian sociological paradigms helps us to make history into a dynamic, alive discipline which while still may not be regarded as a hard skill discipline, but will certainly emerge as a much needed soft skill discipline which gives new dimension to one's mastery of hard skill disciplines i.e. medicine, IT, law, finance etc

Now as a humble school teacher what should I do to help, in some small measure, the kids to discover these multifacedness of history. What simple framework should one bear in mind that will help history teachers, to draw this fascinating aspect for children of middle and high school? I have drawn some key points, which I call it the five point charter for the benefit of my colleagues in the TVS group of educational institutions, which should guide their teaching process in history.

1. FOCUS MORE ON THE WHYS AND HOWS AND LESS ON WHERES, WHATS AND WHENS

2. EXPLORE TOPICS/THEMES THAT HELP TO EXPLAIN CURRENT SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL ISSUES

3. ENCOURAGE AND LOOK FOR NEWER PERSPECTIVES TO EXPLAIN EVENTS AND PROCESSESS OF THE PAST

4. ENDEAVOUR TO ADOPT TEACHING APPROACHES THAT ACCOMMODATE CHILD’S WORLDVIEW AND ARE SENSITIVE TO THEIR SOCIALISING PROCESS

5. HELP TO ENGENDER HISTORICAL THINKING THAN MERE ABILITY TO RECOLLECT ‘FACTS’ FROM THE PAST

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

annonymous said
Your approach to the subject is excellent. Its unfortunate that we do not have teachers like you who would take history to the students the way you do. Hope some day one of your own students carry your legacy by teaching history the way they learnt from you. Good Luck