History Is Not An Option


History is being forgotten.

David Wall writes:

As the Irish education system is revamped and modernised an issue that slipped below the radar was the relegation of History to being an option subject.

Students will no longer have to learn about The Age of Exploration (slavery and empire) The Reformation (religious intolerance) Victorian child labour (the creation of workers’ rights) or World War II (the dangers of a democratically elected demagogue who builds a platform built on intolerance and hate…)

At junior cert we learn about Celts right up to modern-day Europe and Ireland. We are given a grounding, thin as it may be, in how the world has become what it is. We develop a sense of self and begin to question why things are as they are.

The junior cert might not allow for depth of study but it grants us with an understanding of who and what we are. It provides us with opportunities to question and challenge the structures of the world, it allows us to form our own identity and it provides the capacity to realise that marching under the swastika possibly isn’t the best way to present an argument.

Students are armed with the skills of considering fact vs fiction. They focus what propaganda is and how to question sources. They are introduced to the skills necessary to combat lies and hate and develop the capacity to think for themselves.

They no longer have to do this.

The protests and counter-protests in America have served to scratch at the thin skin of social inclusivity within America. If the images from recent weeks of young white men with neatly parted hair illuminated by flaming torches were in black and white we could have safely assumed they were of rallies and marches in 1930s Germany.

They weren’t. This is America; Land of the Brave and Home of the Free, 2017.The anger and hate contorting the faces of these young men beneath the swastika encapsulates a damaged society. That the violence and hate is so closely linked to events in living memory is frightening.

A rudimentary Junior Cert education tells us what dangers to expect.

A combination of historical amnesia, willful ignorance and blatant hate has bloomed within American society in recent weeks. This is not an earth-shattering revelation, accepted, but it is a moment of truth.

The speed with which history repeats itself is terrifying. We are teetering on an abyss as the ground fragments beneath our scrabbling feet. Whether this is overly dramatic or not, the sentiment is clear: the study and understanding of our history is not an option.

David Wall is a freelance writer

Pic: Amazon


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41 thoughts on “History Is Not An Option

  1. brownbull

    I agree but this isn’t anything new, history wasn’t even offered in my school for Junior Cert, the VEC couldn’t be bothered paying a teacher to teach it to the plebs

      1. brownbull

        Yes you are correct it was compulsory syllabus at the time but the school decided to not offer it on the first week of first year due to staffing issues. Students who wanted to study history at their local school had no opportunity to go to another school at that late stage. Many parents complained but nothing was done about it.

    1. Clampers Outside!

      Vocational Schools, or VECs, generally have far greater focus on trades and skills – woodwork, metal work, mickey drawin’ (as we called Mechanical Drawin’ in my day :) ) and similar subjects, rather than an emphasis on book learning which you get at a standard secondary school.

      ’tis how i understood it from my brother who went to a VEC too.

      Plse, do correct me if I’m wrong..

        1. Clampers Outside!

          My brother built a new case for an old wall clock, about two and a half foot high, with lots of little wood turned (?) pieces. Nice piece I always though for a Leaving Cert woodwork exam / project. I was dead jealous at the time, of his skill, and how he turned a clapped out 80 / 100 yr old clock with no casing into something hanging on the wall in Ma Clampers’ today :)
          Always wanted to know how to turn wood, no puns intended! …Someday :)

          (my description does it no justice, and I’ve bias, he’s me bro like)

      1. brownbull

        This is true is a general sense, there are practical subjects that other schools may not have, however in my understanding it does not mean they get an opt-out on the required syllabus subjects such as history – typically they wouldn’t offer subjects like Latin or have a wide array of foreign languages.

  2. Quisling

    In full agreement with this. ‘Useless’ (read: non-utilitarian) subjects like this actually teach our children to think for themselves and form their own opinions. God forbid!

    Philosophy is still a compulsory subject for all French Baccalaureat students. Why? It teaches reasoning, critical thinking, the art of argument, and – just maybe – the thought that knowledge is worth pursuing for its own sake.

    The gift of curiosity is a wondrous thing.

    1. Nigel

      I can’t think of anything less useless or more utilitarian than giving young people a solid grounding in the events of the past. Anything else is like encouraging amnesia. Excellent point about philosophy, too.

  3. Rob_G

    Are religion and Irish still compulsory – that’s a chunk of curriculum space that we could free up right there.

    1. pedeyw

      Religion just needs a reform, teaching kids about various different religions would be a good idea. And we’ll agree to disagree on Irish.

      1. Rob_G

        It would be nice if there was time to teach everything, but there is only so much time in the school day. Whatever about religion, spending 3 or 4 classes a week a week teaching a language that has very few practical applications, and very little crossover with other languages, does not seem to me to be the best use of this limited time.

        Irish should become optional, at least for the Leaving Cert.

        1. bisted

          …I seldom agree with Rob;G but Irish should be banned…the way Franco tried to ban Basque and Catalan…

          1. Rob_G

            I don’t think it should be banned; I just don’t think that we should be spend one-fifth of school time at teaching it.

  4. Tomorrow never comes

    easy on the hyperbole there fella

    of course a big flaw in historical teaching has been the tendency to infantilise the past and imagine that we are more sophisticated these days – that’s what you meant isn’t it?

    maybe if history teachers used more innovative teaching techniques kids would find it more interesting?

  5. Gorev Mahagut

    Ah now. It’s a bit soft-headed to say that teaching history will stop children become nazis. Plenty of right-wing blowhards are history buffs, it’s expected if you want to call yourself a conservative. Try reading Niall Ferguson some time (even Boris Johnson thinks himself a historian). The notion that we can escape the past and begin again with year zero is, historically, the delusion of certain socialist revolutionary regimes. In contrast, Nazis and right-wingers (or “like-minded traditionalists” as they call themselves) draw on history as a source for their hate-filled propaganda.

    Education will only combat hatred if it gives young people a sense of being able to fulfill themselves. Businesses used to train apprentices, they cultivated a skill-base at their own expense because they profited thereby. Now corporations don’t offer training, and don’t pay interns: the state is expected to train young people with the skills corporations want; the public bears the cost and the CEOs make the money. Young people have nothing to gain from this. None of us do. It isn’t being done for our benefit.

    Putting history back in the junior cert would be nice. Putting education (instead of training) back on the curriculum would be even nicer.

    1. pedeyw

      It would help them see the more egregious falsehoods and biases used by a lot right wing history buffs, though.

  6. Nugget

    Time and space on the timetable is needed for new areas of the curriculum such as Wellbeing. Wellbeing is complusory

  7. Rob_G

    The trend in education these days is moving away from subject-based learning to competence-based learning anyway.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      “Competence-based learning” is not education, it’s training.

      Education is not about acquiring skills. It is, in the words of Richard Rorty, a matter of “reading a lot of books, with the result that you become a different person from the person you were before you read those books”. Politicians despise education and corporations oppose it. It is a resource which the wealthy would deny the poor. It needs no other recommendation.

        1. Bookworm

          The trend in online commenting on blog sites is towards showing no competence or education whatsoever

        1. Pip

          Amusingly, in that policy document they refer to ‘competences’ several times.
          Surely it’s ‘competencies’. Pah!

  8. Clampers Outside!

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

    “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain

    “A Limerick A Day” – Broadsheet.ie

  9. Fully Keen

    Keep the Irish tho, that’s crucial. Maybe add Latin.

    I enjoy this backward island. We can’t get out of our own way 84% of the time.

    We should have a citizens assembly about this. Or a tribunal. Or whatever.

  10. Increasing Displacement

    History is gone but the utterly useless Irish is still rammed home?
    What a joke.
    At least something can be learned from history (like we used to speak Irish and if you want to learn it you should do it on your own time).

    1. Nigel

      Decrying the loss of history while bewailing the retention of Irish is so massively missing the point I can only assume you are all experiencing a total eclipse of the brain.

  11. Niamh

    Must say I agree. A basic grasp of history is a civic duty, really; anyone who’s lived in the UK and met those blank expressions when it comes to Anglo-Irish relations can see the hazard – and cowardice, really – of not giving young people a grounding in their country/continent/culture’s past. History does teach critical thinking because it is the one subject students can easily expand on by going to a library and reading revisionist theories etc; it’s controversial enough to encourage that in the interested, I think.

    To get rid of it and keep Irish? What the effing hell??

  12. Turgenev

    Thanks to Ruairi Quinn, who took history off the core curriculum.

    History is useful if it’s well taught because it teaches people how to think and learn from watching the process of time.

    Irish is a particularly useful language to learn – linguists are crazy about it – because of its unusual psychology and grammar. Unfortunately, there’s been a right-wing attempt to remove it for many years.

    We really, really need to become good at learning and speaking other languages. We look like right eejits as mere anglophones, useful though English is. Learning Irish well, as well as making that the basis of a course that extends into How to Learn Languages, with a choice of several languages to learn, would be really useful.

    And without fluency in Irish we don’t really have access to our history; the victors write the history or at least ensure that their version is predominant, and too many historians don’t have firsthand access to Irish-language history, poetry and documentation during the years of invasion and conflict… Even if they have that access, the lay reader is subject to their choice, rather than being able to hunt out the original sources and read them.

    1. Rob_G

      Irish is a particularly useful language to learn – linguists are crazy about it

      Linguists are crazy about Aramaic, too – this doesn’t make it a useful language to learn. There is very little crossover between Irish and any other commonly-spoken languages – pupils would be better off learning French or German or Spanish. These would be useful in an of themselves, and would make learning related languages a lot easier.

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