THE 5 STANDARDS FOR TRANSACTING HISTORY MEANINGFULLY...
One can identify the following five criterias or benchmarks that are essential for any relevant and meaningful pedagogy of history. These are with specific reference to middle and high school students in India:
1. History needs to be more theme, concept and process driven. For example children should have understanding of what terms like kingdom/empire mean. What does governance or state mean? why wars happen and how their context have changed over time? In what ways could we possibly club early empires like Mauryas, Kushanas and Satvahanas under one large thematic category? These conceptual and thematic questions help in unravelling the epistemic qualities of history. It facilitates an understanding of history that provides knowledge (perspectives) that is relevant and meaningful.
2. History should seek to understand more of the whys and hows of such themes, concepts and processes. While the whats, wheres and whens have its importance but in itself dates, events, exploits of select individuals which are usually sought to be unravelled in certain linearity and sequentiality in conventional and popular discourses bear no meaning unless contextualized in conceptual or thematic frameworks. Indeed particular manifestation of cultures in our pasts needs to be understood in relation and recognition of specific time and space frames.
3. History should familiarize students with the craft of the historian. Our understanding of the past(s) should result from an important recognition of the historians' skill. This involves careful reading of different sources and the painstaking ways corroboration is done through the study and co-relation of different type of sources i.e. literary, epigraphical, numismatics, archaeological and oral.
4. These themes and concepts so dealt with needs to have bearing with students' socialization and their world views. It is only then, many themes and concepts which appears as abstractions will have concrete meaning and relevance for the child. It will help the child to construct her own historical knowledge. Far from being arbitrary and too individualistic, we need to facilitate the understanding that history is and should be constructed with evidences. But at the same time historical facts that emerge are not disembodied, remote, atomistic but since emerging from one's life experience, even in its interpretations, history becomes alive and vibrant. It is important to understand that 'objectivity' in history (and indeed in related disciplines like sociology) is not an abstracted category existing independent of the people who study societies and its pasts.
5. Related to the above, study of history has to help one to observe the present with both continuities and breaks with the past. To a great extent history should be seen as enabling a sense of collective. With particular reference to India for example it can be shown how certain sense of collective existed in the past but how they possibly excluded certain sections (caste, gender, religion). It needs underscoring through a pedagogy of history how newer and more inclusivistic collectives are sought to be established in much of modern democracies. Therefore where the urge for a collective articulation may be a deeply felt need and have historical origins but in a democracy based on equality, justice and freedom, these collectives have to be shown to emerge more slowly and deliberatively.
We need to see whether our textbooks and our teaching practices satsify the above five standards.