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John Simkin

International National Curriculum for History

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In another thread Maggie Jarvis, a science teacher, has criticised those historians who have spent a lot of time studying the assassination of John F. Kennedy: "I cannot support the level and type of discussion that you are all so keen on. Why do you not pool your collective intelligence and tackle something more relevant to today - the atrocities that are taking place at this very moment could do with serious investigation. Perhaps that would lead to fewer people alive at this moment losing them before they should! I repeat - John Kennedy is dead."

The study of history is always about the present and not the past. Historians help us understand the situation we find ourselves in. It is because we need to understand the situation in Iraq today that we need to study events like the assassination of JFK.

Here are a few quotations that make this very important point:

“The aim of the historian, like that of the artist, is to enlarge our picture of the world, to give us a new way of looking at things.” (James Joll)

“The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present.” (G. K. Chesterton)

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe” (H. G. Wells)

“More history is made by secret handshakes than by battles, bills and proclamations.” (John Barth)

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

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” (Voltaire)

Over the last few years I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to understand current events without understanding our “secret history”. Since the emergence of democracy and the mass media it has become vitally important for those in power to hide certain information from the public. The intelligence services have played a very important part in this attempt to conceal this information. So much so that they have become an important political force. In fact, they have become a crucial aspect of what Dwight Eisenhower called in January, 1961 the military-industrial complex.

I am afraid most of the general public have not grasped this point and still believe the information provided by the government. I think there are psychological reasons for this desire to believe that our government tells us the truth. If the government is using the intelligence services to manipulate the truth, do we actually live in a democracy?

The war in Iraq is a good example of this. Blair would never had been able to order troops into Iraq if the British people had the full facts about WMD. Anybody who has spent anytime at all in studying this issue will be aware that MI5 and MI6 worked closely with the Blair government to conceal the truth about WMD. The CIA and FBI did similar things in the United States.

In most cases the security services work in the interests of the government of the day. However, on occasions, these organizations have worked independently of the government. In some cases, they have followed a policy that has attempted to undermine the government. For example, we now have evidence that this happened in Britain during the governments of Ramsay MacDonald (1923-24) and Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76).

It is clear that a similar thing was going on during 1962-63 in America. This resulted in the assassination of the democratically elected president. To my mind you could not have a more important event to study. Not because it is vitally important to find out who fired the actual shots. The most important aspect of this case is to find out who ordered this assassination and who was involved in covering it up. Until this is done the CIA and the FBI will not be brought under democratic control. The same is true in Britain. MI5 and MI6 and our corrupt government will not be brought under control until we find out the full facts about how they manipulated public opinion over WMD in Iraq.

This topic has got me thinking about what topics should be covered in a National Curriculum. Is it possible to devise a history course that could be used in all schools? In other words, an International National Curriculum.

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I thought I would try and answer my own question. Here is a draft outline of what I think should be in a History National Curriculum. With adaptions, I think it could be used throught the world. I am very keen that teachers from other countries get involved in this debate.

My course would be based on a series of themes (Democracy, Poverty, Conquest, Capitalism and Conflict). Each component would be made up of a series of case-studies, including at least one local study. The course would be planned to link up all five themes. The course would make full use of primary sources to look at how ordinary people responded to, and shaped, these important events.

What would you add to this list? What would you take out? I am also interested in the views of people living outside the UK. Would your ideal history curriculum look very different to this one.

Democracy

An account of how men and women have attempted to gain political control of their destinies. Case studies would include Ancient Greece, Republican Rome, Early Parliaments, Male and Female Suffrage, Sweden – A Modern Democracy, Citizenship, Local Study: The Struggle for the Vote in Your Area.

Poverty

A look at the history of inequality. How people became rich and why so many people remained poor. A study of the strategies of how people protected their wealth and how the poor attempted to improve their situation. Case Studies would include Poverty in the Ancient World, Serfdom in the Middle Ages, Managing the Poor in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Poverty and the Industrial Revolution, the Welfare State and a Local Study: Poverty in the 19th Century.

Conquest

A look at the history of conquest and empire. The political and economic advantages of conquest. Strategies used to maintain control over the conquered people. Strategies used by the subjected people to regain control. Case Studies would include the Roman Empire, the Vikings and Normans, the Spanish Empire, the British Empire, the Soviet Empire, American Imperialism and a Local Study: Invasion of your Region.

Capitalism

A study of the development of our economic system. Case Studies would include Early Capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, Trade Unionism, Growth and Depression, Alternative Systems, Globalisation, Environmentalism and a Local Study: Trade and Industry.

Ideology

A look at the different ideologies that have emerged over the last 200 years. Case Studies would include Communism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, Spain and Germany, Capitalism in the United States and a Local Study: Political Ideology in your Region.

Conflict

A study of conflict over the last 200 years. Case Studies would include the First World War, Spanish Civil War, Second World War, the Cold War, Racial Conflict in South Africa, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Religious Fundamentalism and a Local Study: The Impact of War.

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American Imperialism

Perhaps a biased definition? ;)

I do like the idea of case studies. But don't you fear that in this approach the logic,narrative or chronologie becomes lost to the students?

Since a year or two i teach more or less like this and find that students tend to lose track of the events. They have difficulty in putting events eg Vietnam in the right historical time.

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I spoke with an archivist friend recently and we both agreed that the studyof history is whole or part. I think more cyclic rather than linear. A tiimeline is really a misnomer. There's the Direct or Indirect approach to history. Pls correct me history professors.

A good study takes the whole approach. Eyewitness to history and oral recall, photo archives, unearthed fact versus the status quo documented facts found in published material we call "history." All of it teaches humanity and to our young, what is good and evil.

Each part is considered despite the effect it has on the population. If JFK gives a horrified populace a research project then I think that is worthy of the man who died in a wave of doubt and intrigue. Even the more militant or rude researchers can "etherize" a good point.

FWIW I think history is examining the facts in time. There's no timetable on discovery. Think like a 1970's kid watching Alex Haley's "Roots" for the first time. History ain't pretty and part of the work is to unwind the hype. There were Jim Crow remnants in my youth. My history mentioned little of slavery in the books. I didn't know and now I have an understanding, for instance.

JFK research, for the lady who poopoo'ed it (I came to it late and from another angle)is precisely this approach to history. The "hobby" offers many an exercise in historic research they might not have. Like the fellows who re enact the Civil War each year. History is personal.

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American Imperialism

Perhaps a biased definition? ;)

America currently has more than 200,000 troops stationed in 144 countries and territories. Can you come up with a better definition? As Robin Ramsay said recently:

The Americans now plan to control the entire non-EU world so that they can continue to extract raw materials and consume at their present rate. A lot of skinny brown, black and yellow people are going to die to enable a lot of fat Americans to stay fat. This new American empire will not be sustainable for long, but its creation and collapse will be bloody and terrible.

For historical reasons, and because the UK is the world’s second largest overseas investor, Britain is committed to supporting the US – we’re still the Yanks’ unsinkable aircraft carrier. This means that a lot of unpleasant things will have to be endured. At one level, people in villages on the North Yorkshire Moors near the American listening base at Fylingdales will have to endure rising cancer rates which are caused by its signals.

At another, British armed forces will be involved in ‘peacekeeping’ duties around the world, trying to re-assemble Humpty Dumpty after the Americans have blown him to smithereens. And at another, British diplomats will have to provide support for America’s increasingly ludicrous rationales for its imperial expansion. It’s a degrading job being the school bully’s best friend.

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Unlike the Sheriff I have no particular, political or partial agenda to propound when I teach history. However I am deeply committed to helping students become critical thinkers, rational and circumspect voters, and balanced adults. This I believe can be achieved through teaching a wide variety of historical content so long as within it is a study of ideas, ideology, sociology and human psychology and that the methodology applied is one of encouraging the students to question everything.

For these reasons, and others, I believe it is important that I do not project my own pet subjects or semi obsessions onto my students. Not least because they will probably gain a deal more more more gratification from developing their own ;) .

I do however believe that is important for history teachers to understand the content they teach. It is also more important that they exercise some thought when they choose curriculum content.

It is of course quite likely that most of us when given the choice will teach what we know and find interesting.

However there must always be a rationale behind what we do which is more than our own desire to replicate ourselves, an engagement in the micro politics of our particular institution or the production of meaningless exam grades for league tables.

I am unhappy when teachers choose populist study options like "Jack the Ripper", "Elvis", the "Swinging Sixties" because they believe that they will be popular with the punters and/or lead to improved exam grades and have queried such teachers in another forum about this to the point that they have withdrawn from the discussion because they found it so uncomfortable. When populism and the market prevail the aims and objectives are clearly not focussed on the educational or intellectual development of the child.

I am similarly unhappy when teachers assert that children must be taught about a particular topic because it fits in with the ideological agenda or personal identity of the teacher in question.

Finally, I have never studied JFK or any period in American history in any great depth finding the whole business quite uninteresting. I would however like to offer my own insight into the debate in that I believe that the President in question was murdered.

;)

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I'd like to return to the question posed at the beginning. The curriculum is interestingly wide in breadth, but I think it's too shallow in depth. It's very Euro/US(as an extension of European culture)-centric. Perhaps it would be more enlightening for the students to get a multi-cultural perspective. For example, topics might include these areas of investigation (as well as a few other thoughts):

Democracy: cooperativism, Utopian Socialism, how those in power have attempted to maintain their position, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, Porto Alegre, Iran, Kuwait, (OK, in the US, but non-european -- Iroquois Confederacy)

Poverty: Pre-late 1800s West Africa,

Conquest: Mongol Empire, West African/Sahel empires, Incan & Aztec Empires, Siamese Empire

Capitalism: Why is this separated from ideology? Would it include Mercantilism?

Ideology: Brazil under Vargas and the Revolution of 1964's regime (these two dovetail nicely into other topics/areas), Peoples Rep. of China (esp. today), Kampuchea, Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia

Conflict: (Perhaps Conquest could be a part of Conflict) boundaries in Africa, and South Asia, the United Nations, the Non-aligned Group, Nigeria (1960s & now), North-South, NGOs

There's a whole world out there to be discovered, analyzed, and understood.

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I would like to chime in here on the question at the head of this thread, but I feel lost in answering anything but . . . everything.

Are you asking what a college graduate or a high school graduate should know about history to have either degree?

I am more of a timeline person. I will stick with what an American high school student should know.

Western Civilization from Egypt/Babylon through the present.

World Civilization with a clear presentation of at least Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East.

United States history from Columbus to the present.

I think this education should be able to provide a base for a more thorough investigation of historical topics in college.

The concepts of social, political, and economic history should be easy for a graduate to understand, and they should be able to critically compare cultures (east/west) and time periods (colonial America/ Civil War United States)

in social history, along the way students should see the differences in religions and their particular cultural influences, be able to empathize with various class interests of different periods, understand gender differences by period and region, see the difference in basic rights/liberties for different places and times

(also students should have learned intellectual developments (Buddhism, Romanticism, Enlightenment, Modernism, Confucianism, Bushido code, etc)

these devlopments hopefully would be suplemented by literature/English classes)

in economic history students should be able to understand various different systems by their economies from the Greek city-state, to the Roman empire, through eastern empires, imperialism, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, command economy, mixed economy

in political history

students should have an understanding of

anarchism, despotism, monarchy, theocracy, democracy, totalitarinaism, imperialism, communism, socialism,

That is my ten minute shot at this topic.

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Unlike the Sheriff I have no particular, political or partial agenda to propound when I teach history. (Andy Walker)

I think you are mistaken when you say you have “no particular, political or partial agenda to propound when I teach history”. We all have political values and this is reflected in what we teach (in the small areas in the UK when you can do this). In most cases this is not clear because we are reflecting the dominant ideology. For example, it is unlikely that people would object to my suggestion that we teach the struggle for equal civil rights in South Africa or the United States. We select topics like this partly because we like the message it provides. Liberals like yourself would be less keen to study some of the unpleasant consequences of black majority rule in some African countries.

My crime has been to use the term “American Imperialism”. My dictionary defines imperialism as “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and domination of a nation”. I think that is a correct definition of American foreign policy since the Second World War. In most cases this has been by the use of economic power and covert operations but in some cases it has been the result of naked military power.

One possibility is to call it an American Empire (after all no one objected to me using the terms the Soviet Empire or the British Empire). My dictionary defines empire as “an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control”. This is not so different from the word imperialism. The main difference is that the word empire is more acceptable (the British of course proudly used the term empire to describe its possessions). I suspect imperialism is less acceptable because it is associated with communist thinkers like Lenin.

However I am deeply committed to helping students become critical thinkers, rational and circumspect voters, and balanced adults. This I believe can be achieved through teaching a wide variety of historical content so long as within it is a study of ideas, ideology, sociology and human psychology and that the methodology applied is one of encouraging the students to question everything. (Andy Walker)

I totally agree with this statement. However, you would be wrong to suggest that this suggests that you have “no particular, political or partial agenda to propound”. The attraction of this approach is that it questioned the political status quo. That is the reason why I, and other like me, fought so hard for this approach in the 1970s. It must be difficult for younger teachers to realize how revolutionary this approach was at the time. Its proponents were described as people with a political agenda (they were of course right in this). Keith Joseph, the Education Minister under Margaret Thatcher, even went as far as to say we were “Marxists”. He also blamed the influence of the Open University for this approach (they had indeed been partly responsible – I was trained by them) and talked about closing down its courses for teachers. The great irony is that this approach became part of the dominant ideology under Thatcher when the National Curriculum was introduced. Thatcher made every attempt to get Kenneth Baker to get this changed but by this time it was too late and could not be done without it becoming clear that the Tories were interfering with the way history was taught in schools.

For these reasons, and others, I believe it is important that I do not project my own pet subjects or semi obsessions onto my students. Not least because they will probably gain a deal more gratification from developing their own. (Andy Walker)

I actually believe that one of the most serious mistakes that teachers make is to disguise or suppress their “own pet subjects or semi obsessions”. I left school with no interest in history. One of the reasons for this was because my own history teachers were not enthusiastic about the subject. My interest in the subject came from the enthusiasm of a group of teenagers (members of the Harold Hill Young Socialists). They were indeed obsessed with their “pet subjects” (at the time it was the Vietnam War, Apartheid in South Africa, Civil Rights in America). They were also obsessed with reading history books (a very unusual activity on a council estate that did not have a grammar school). Their enthusiasm for the subject had a deep impact on me. It was infectious and I soon also had a passion for the subject.

When I got to university I began to encounter other enthusiastic and passionate teachers. It was at the Open University and unlike the teachers at my secondary school they did not appear to find the subjects they were teaching to be boring. They helped to give me a love of other subjects such as English Literature, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology (with the OU you did not specialise until the last four years of your course). I still retain this love of these subjects and this has influenced the way I teach history.

The first two lessons I observed while on my PGCE course were of Y9 students studying poetry. The first lesson was truly appalling. The behaviour of the students so bad that I seriously questioned whether I wanted to train as a teacher. It was the second lesson that convinced me to stay on the course. Although it was the same subject as the first lesson, the students were enthralled. So was I. Why? Because the teacher was so passionate about what he was teaching. He really believed in the poems of Thomas Hardy. By the end of the lesson, so did I. I suspect the students did as well.

What success that I have had as a teacher has depended to a large extent on my willingness (it does need a certain amount of courage) to express my passion for the subject. This of course depends to a certain extent on the topics I teach. For example, I have always found it difficult to be too enthusiastic about teaching Ancient Egypt. Even a visit to this country did not solve this problem.

However, I was passionate when I taught about my “pet subjects or semi obsessions” such as the First World War, the assassination of JFK, the fight for the vote, the Vietnam War, Apartheid in South Africa, Civil Rights in America, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.

I remember an old man telling me that he first became interested in history while at school. He dated it back to a lesson on the First World War. It was when the teacher began to cry while he was reading out a war poem. He told me he did not fully understand the poem, but he knew it was important and he was determined to find out why.

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We select topics like this partly because we like the message it provides. Liberals like yourself would be less keen to study some of the unpleasant consequences of black majority rule in some African countries.

I disagree with this comment. I believe that teaching the history of black majority rule in African countries would provide a real challenge and genuine opportunity of deep learning on the part of both the teacher and the students, precisely because it would involve a thorough unpacking of a great deal of ideological baggage. This I think was made clear in my earlier comment

However I am deeply committed to helping students become critical thinkers, rational and circumspect voters, and balanced adults. This I believe can be achieved through teaching a wide variety of historical content so long as within it is a study of ideas, ideology, sociology and human psychology and that the methodology applied is one of encouraging the students to question everything. (Andy Walker)

I don't select topics because I like the message they provide.

On the subject of my "political or partial agenda to propound". I wholly accept John's point that the creation of critical thinkers may have the desirable consequence of such adults questioning the existing political status quo. However if I do my job properly they will not be doing so with my own blueprint embedded in their minds, rather they will be empowered to create their own. This I believe is a crucial difference.

Finally, whilst I agree that enthusiam and expertise in particular topics may on occassions inspire and enthuse our students, we must also be alive to the possibility that when taken to an extreme they may make us appear something of bore.

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I don't select topics because I like the message they provide. (Andy Walker)

Of course history teachers have limited control over the topics they teach. However, they still do have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to in-depth case studies. What factors determine your choice? Are you sure your basic political opinions have no influence over these decisions?

Some topics such as the First World War and the Industrial Revolution are taught in all schools. These are big subjects and choices have to be made about what you take a look at. This I believe involves teachers thinking about what the message will be (I actually think it would be an immoral act not to do this). For example, it would be possible to teach about the First World War as if it was an exciting activity (history teachers taught about war in this way in the 19th century). It was because it was taught in this way that governments throughout Europe were able to persuade people to join the armed forces at the outbreak of war. It could be argued that without this willingness to fight the war it would not have lasted for so long.

When I teach about the First World War the last thing I want my students to believe is that war is exciting. Instead I want them to obtain a very different message. When my book Contemporary Accounts of the First World War was first published the reviewer in the TES questioned whether it should be used in the classroom. She quoted T. S. Eliot from the Wasteland: “Human kind cannot bear too much reality”. First-hand accounts of the horror of war was unusual in 1979 although it has now entered the mainstream.

The same is true of the Industrial Revolution. I spend some time of famous entrepreneurs like Richard Arkwright, George Courtauld, James Watt and George Stephenson. I do that because I want to inspire them into becoming future inventors and entrepreneurs. I mainly do this because I know most people are motivated by a desire to make money. However, I also want them to get another message. That is that people can cause a lot of misery by their desire for money. I therefore look at the example of child labour. This includes those who worked for Richard Arkwright, George Courtauld, Robert Owen and John Fielden. I do this for political reasons. I want to show them you don’t have to treat people badly to make money. Owen and Fielden are fine examples of the human race and make good role models for our students.

Am I really so different from other teachers? Do they teach in a political and moral vacuum? Or is it because they are unaware of the political and moral reasons for teaching what they do? (I studied psychology as well as history at university and do not believe people make decisions without reference to their value system).

Finally, whilst I agree that enthusiasm and expertise in particular topics may on occasions inspire and enthuse our students, we must also be alive to the possibility that when taken to an extreme they may make us appear something of bore. (Andy Walker)

Agreed. We must always be aware of our audience. I, like all teachers, have suffered from students complaining that history was boring. However, they never said that when I was teaching about the assassination of JFK. Not because they shared my interest in the political reasons for the assassination. They were excited by the fact that it is a mystery. One of the attractions to them of this is that they are not being told what to think. As it is a mystery they can make up their own mind about what happened. The only complaint I got from the students was when we had to stop studying the subject.

Next time we have dinner together I might well bore you with the latest evidence that has emerged on the JFK assassination. I will also probably talk too much about West Ham. However, I am sure you will get your own back by telling me stories about recent events on the golf course. I think it is what people call friendship.

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Of course I do not believe that I teaching in a political or moral vacuum. I am well aware of the social context in which I earn my crust and of the ideology I carry around with me and how this necessarily will impact on everything I do.

I think the only point of disagreement I have with John here is over ultimate aims (and I not sure that there is much of a disagreement even here). I like to think I teach children to be equipped to ask questions and make choices. To these ends my views and "pet" subjects may well be discussed and studied but the ultimate aim is for the students themselves to be able to make up their own minds. Even if they turn out Tories I'd prefer thinking to unthinking Tories ;)

I am not sure that choice of topic to study is the crucial factor here and am confident that I could subvert whatever the DFES care to throw at me. However topics have to be of sufficient gravity and breadth for my aims to be fulfilled. I have been disturbed for instance by "joke" populist options appearing on exam board syllabuses and cannot see how even the soundest methodology or skilled practitioner could make "Elvis" or "the Swinging 60's" or the "history of football" topics through which important issues and ideologies could be fully, adequately or easily discussed.

I look forward to the opportunity to bore me old mate Simkin further at the earliest opportunity ;) I am interested in though not yet convinced by the notion that the assassination of JFK marks the point at which American democracy started to degenerate.

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I like to think I teach children to be equipped to ask questions and make choices. To these ends my views and "pet" subjects may well be discussed and studied but the ultimate aim is for the students themselves to be able to make up their own minds. Even if they turn out Tories I'd prefer thinking to unthinking Tories. (Andy Walker)

I agree. My main objective in my teaching is to help create fully functioning active citizens. This includes developing a desire to help make society as democratic as possible.

American Imperialism Perhaps a biased definition? (Marco Koene).

I think this is just a problem of language. What about calling this section United States: Postwar Superpower?

A good study takes the whole approach. Eyewitness to history and oral recall, photo archives, unearthed fact versus the status quo documented facts found in published material we call "history." All of it teaches humanity and to our young, what is good and evil.

Each part is considered despite the effect it has on the population. If JFK gives a horrified populace a research project then I think that is worthy of the man who died in a wave of doubt and intrigue. Even the more militant or rude researchers can "etherize" a good point.

FWIW I think history is examining the facts in time. There's no timetable on discovery. Think like a 1970's kid watching Alex Haley's "Roots" for the first time. History ain't pretty and part of the work is to unwind the hype. There were Jim Crow remnants in my youth. My history mentioned little of slavery in the books. I didn't know and now I have an understanding, for instance.

JFK research, for the lady who poopoo'ed it (I came to it late and from another angle)is precisely this approach to history. The "hobby" offers many an exercise in historic research they might not have. Like the fellows who re enact the Civil War each year. History is personal. (Chris Cox)

I think it is very important that people who are not history teachers get involved in this debate. I agree with Chris that methodology is vitally important and that at each stage of the process we should make full use of the sources available to us. We also need to ask serious questions about the sources that are not available to us. For example, in the case of the JFK assassination. This will also be an issue when students study the Iraq War in the future

Chris makes the valid point that most history is learnt after we leave school (definitely true in my case). The study of history therefore becomes involved with our experiences of life. For many people the study of history becomes a hobby. I recently read that as a result of the web the fastest growing hobby is family history research. Why do adults develop hobbies like this? I suspect a major reason is from having contact with an enthusiastic researcher. I would like to think that a good teacher can also use his or her enthusiasm for the subject to help produce life-long history students.

I'd like to return to the question posed at the beginning. The curriculum is interestingly wide in breadth, but I think it's too shallow in depth. It's very Euro/US (as an extension of European culture)-centric. Perhaps it would be more enlightening for the students to get a multi-cultural perspective. (Mervin Evler)

I agree. However, there is a good reason why history teachers in Europe tend to teach a Euro/US centric curriculum. I (and I assume most history teachers) want to teach those topics that best provide their students with an understanding of the past that best helps them cope with the society they are living in. We only have a limited amount of time available so we need to make difficult choices. Given this situation teachers are bound to select mainly European/US based topics although I agree we must include events from a wide variety of cultures.

You make some good suggestions. I particularly liked the following:

Democracy: Iroquois Confederacy

Poverty: Pre-late 1800s West Africa,

Conquest: Mongol Empire, Incan & Aztec Empires

Capitalism: Why is this separated from ideology? Would it include Mercantilism?

Ideology: Mercantilism, Peoples Republic of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia

Conflict: the United Nations, North-South Divide.

I am more of a timeline person. I will stick with what an American high school student should know.

Western Civilization from Egypt/Babylon through the present. World Civilization with a clear presentation of at least Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East. United States history from Columbus to the present.

I think this education should be able to provide a base for a more thorough investigation of historical topics in college. The concepts of social, political, and economic history should be easy for a graduate to understand, and they should be able to critically compare cultures (east/west) and time periods (colonial America/ Civil War United States) (Raymond Blair)

The problem with this approach is that it gives you no time to look at anything in any depth. You are of the opinion that “a more thorough investigation of historical topics" should be left to when they reach college. I disagree, I think we need to introduce in-depth studies at a much younger age. With the arrival of the web we can even allow them a certain amount of choice about what investigations they get involved in.

I think bright students in particularly get very frustrated by the need to cover too much content. My experience is that these students respond very well to in-depth research projects. I always set personalized local history research topics in Y7 (11-12 year olds). I was also very impressed with the quality of their research (true they often got their parents involved but I don’t think that is a bad idea). They also had the added bonus of knowing that the best research because teaching materials for future generations of students. They were made to feel they were already doing "real history".

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I think that we all bring biases and preconceptions into the classroom and that will often affect what we present as teachers in the classroom.

But I think as historians we need to be aware of those preconceptions and biases and minimize and downplay them as much as possible. I have always been put off by the argument that biases are inevetable so it is fair or even more honest to nakedly promote the individual ideology of the teacher.

The unacceptable (IMHO) downside of intentionally bringing ideology into the classroom (democracy as historical inevitability, working class movements leading to a better way of life in the industrialized world) is that students and parents can feel that a teacher is using a history classroom as a political or social policy forum.

We can say that certain things happened in the past but we do not know whether democracy or welfare states will last into the next century. These things are a product of their particular historical environment.

John, I agree that historical studies should include in depth looks at subjects. But my point is that in the immensely broad framework I laid out for subjects of study, there is more than fertile ground for digging deep into certain topics in depth. I never did post that I thought all teaching had to skim across the surface of every subject.

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I have just spent some time reading through this entire debate and thought I'd add my twopennyworth.

I was very badly put off history at school by being taught a political, economic, social model - in my 3rd year I gained 5%. Yet I have always loved history and even as a child spent time reading historical novels.

My favourite topics in history continue to be so called populist history - Titanic, Jack the Ripper, Henry VIII's six wives etc. These are also listed by my students as some of their favourite topics along with the world wars, Nazi Germany and medieval warfare.

As a teacher of history it is my belief that the subject matter is largely unimportant so long as it inspires and enthuses pupils to further study of the subject. What is important is to enable pupils to become historians in their own right. to this end it is more important that they develop an understanding of how to:

Conduct research

Recognise bias

Be able to interpret and analyse sources

Be able to make links between present day events and happenings and those of the past

Be able to place events within a worldwide context

Develop thinking skills and to consider why things happened the way they did and when they did.

When developing schemes of work I know that I do include many of my own and colleagues' favourite topics, largely because pupils will be motivated by their teachers' obvious enthusiasm for the topic being studied.

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