Trying to figure out the new NCERT history books - another critique and an effort

The new NCERT history text books across standards VI to X present a different kind of challenge to teachers like never before. History has been reworked from the three Rs - Read, Recall and Write to the three Cs - consider, conceive and compose. In itself this is great but in the process teachers and students have been saddled with other kinds of problems.
Some problems of these books I have dealt with before.(click here to see my earlier critique) As a positive it will no longer be possible for the teacher or the student to memorise points and write an answer in neatly defined causes, course and consequence. But then my interaction with students, confronted with an approach where every topic is presented in a non-linear format, where topics are located in various contexts, where individuals like Hitler or Gandhi appear in the wider socio-economic contexts etc, made evident their total confusion and frustration. To be honest, even I cannot claim to have mastered these topics and to me all the chapters in class IX and X books were multi-layered and open to multiple interpretations. In fact I would go the extent of saying that even clarity is lacking but which again in my view has been deliberate. Used as we all are (students, teachers and even the lay public) to a more conventional narratives in history, this new approach in fact goads us to take a stand on different themes and issues. This in itself is good again. But then this is something teachers and students (and even parents) have not been equipped for. Our earlier approaches in history (or for that matter education itself) did not encourage one to arrive at any opinions. History was all about 'facts' and history exams were all about recollection of those 'facts'. Now a teacher is expected to encourage students to arrive at an understanding that is personal but at the same time the opinion that is formed is an informed opinion - based on certain 'facts'. Ergo these textbooks dwell more on explanation than stating 'facts'. This like I repeat poses serious challenges and given the context in which social sciences disciplines are practised in the schools in India (which evidently the worthy authors of these textbooks seem to be oblivious of) the initial response to these books by many teachers, students and parents is one of hostility and spite. From the examination point of view it can be alleged that these texts do not offer a 'grip' on the subject. These books are not about scoring marks. But unfortunately as things stand, examinations in India are all about scoring marks. If one question can have multiple answers, which answer will get maximum marks? What kind of answer keys will the worthy evaluators have with them to assess the answers if the questions like the texts are going to be so open ended? How many teachers are really equipped to evaluate open ended answers? Do these teachers have the kind of reading and understanding of history that these books warrant? And importantly how many children across the country are really so articulate to expound opinionated answers with some clarity? Have they been given such writing skills in the first place? I actually get a feeling these texts have been written on certain assumptions i.e. expecting social science teachers to be familiar with E J Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson! How many schools have specialist social science teachers? And if yes, do these teachers ever read newspapers leave alone specialist books? It is for this reason I feel the authors of these texts are ignorant of the reality of schools in general, and certainly ignorant of the fact that social science teachers are the jokers of the pack in most schools (with few exceptions). Here I would hold the fancied scholars and organizations like NCERT, CBSE, ICSE (the latter being the most fraudulent) and state education boards for such a sorry state of affairs. How many school teachers would the likes of Neeladri Bhattacharya, Janaki Nair, Ramachandra Guha ( big guns of Indian history who have had a role in authoring these NCERT textbooks) have interacted with? How many workshops have been conducted either by CBSE or NCERT to help teachers to come to some understanding on contemporary trends in historiography?

Under the circumstances therefore I think it would make lot of sense to make some revisions in the text or at least have a teacher resource book which clearly helps teachers in given a sound macro view. The macro view given now is too wishy-washy and like I mentioned before lacks clarity. The text or a teacher resource book should contain some kind of a summative comment (similar to the one I have tried to do below), on different chapters of the texts. The summation should provide a concrete hinge for teachers to latch on to and provide an entry point for further critiquing and inquiry. The summation need not be hermetically sealed. In the name of complexity of issues and attempting to be nuanced, many top ranking scholars and historians as evidenced in their monographs, state far too many arguments at the same time. So much so it becomes difficult what these scholar/historians are trying to say. (I must tongue in cheek mention the writings of historians like Sumit Sarkar, R Champakalakshmi here. I'm yet to figure them out) Such a mode of writing is perhaps all right at very specialised levels but to do this at school level is going to prove counterproductive.

I would be critiquing further these books at this level with more examples on some later date. But for the moment I have also tried to put across few activity worksheets which I used to handle Nationalism and Nazism. I hope these would be of some help to fellow history teachers who are convinced that these new books have more meat to offer but cannot figure out how to bite into them!

One would notice that the two chapters are not part of the same textbook - the chapter on Nazism is included in class IX and the chapter on Nationalism in Europe in Class X. This in my view creates needless confusion and by rights both the chapter should have been included in IX itself. The chapter on French revolution which again is included in Class IX could have preceded this chapter on nationalism.

A brief overview

The chapter on nationalism basically talks how a modern nation was sought to be forged based on an understanding of a nation inclusive in its ideals - a nation state based on equality, liberty and fraternity and therefore democracy. This ideal was expounded in the French revolution. But then with Napoleon many of the progressive ideals of French revolution were subverted and the French nation from being one based on liberal values came to be based on cultural attributes. The French under Napoleon imposed French culture and identity on people in Europe instead of the progressive liberal values the people expected Napoleon to bring in when he invaded places like Austria, Prussia etc. Thus cultural values became determinant of a nation particularly for Germany and Italy. German unification was culturally constituted and it was done so aggressively. It was this strong sense of cultural nationalism which formed the ethos of German nation that a demagogue like Hitler exploited in the 1930s, some fifty years after Germany was united under the authoritarian Bismarck. A nation nurtured on liberal values of democracy, equality, liberty has a better chances of dealing with economic and social crisis that Germany faced after world war I.France would be a good example here - remember its liberal legacy of liberty, equality and fraternity) The liberal democracy (the so called Weimar republic) that was in force in Germany after Treaty of Versailles was something which was imposed on Germany by the allied powers. My understanding is (may not be fully correct) Germany was actually nurtured on cultural terms where its language and folklore (the book for example mentions Grimm brothers role in fomenting the German nationalists spirit through their collection of folktales.) were its prime movers in its nation formation. This 'Romanticist' turn of nationalism also had a class aspect. Here it was not the working class but its feudal-industrial classes (the Junkers)that were main players in shaping German identity, German nationalism and German unification. Therefore such a nation so formed was always going to be a fertile ground for fascism. In contrast Indian nationalism (the chapter should have again by rights been included in class IX textbook)with its liberal ethos of secularism, liberty and equality which charted the Indian freedom struggle continues to check forces of fascism in some measure.

The above macro-view forms the basis of my understanding of the chapters on French Revolution, Nationalism in Europe and Nazism. People would perhaps agree that there is indeed a certain continuity in these chapters and therefore these chapters had to be kept in one textbook. Based on this, have a look at couple at my simulated activity worksheet on nations and nationalism here. Ideally the questions raised in the worksheet needs to be dealt with by students in groups.
Here is the simulated worksheet on Nazism