Stop bullying the history teacher!

I’m fed up.

Since the publication of Gove’s proposed new history curriculum the newspapers, radio and television haven’t stopped with debate and discussion. This is great. I am pleased that the subject I care about so much is this important to others.

But one thing that is getting me down is the amount of negativity in this recent coverage toward history teachers and the content (or perceived lack of content) we currently teach. If you listened to the Moral Maze on Radio 4 recently or read this current article by Chris Skidmore you’d probably think that most of us barely teach any historical knowledge whatsoever. In fact, according to these ‘experts’ all we do is teach ‘skills’ and hate history.

This is far from the truth. Most history teachers I know have a passion for their subject that exceeds most of our colleagues in other departments. We care deeply about the content we teach and carefully choose narratives that we think will be engaging and relevant to our students. We believe strongly in knowledge as ultimately this is why most of us love the subject. Many of us constantly strive to improve our own knowledge by reading books, visiting museums or attending lectures so that we might be able to share this with our students.

This isn’t to say we are perfect. I know personally I’m not and am happy to admit my weaknesses. In the time I have it is very difficult to teach chronological overviews or to impart detailed historical knowledge to teenagers who study a wealth of topics and may see me for less than three hours a fortnight. But I try my damn hardest to tackle this!

Additionally most of us are not resistant to change and would happily admit that we wouldn’t mind a new curriculum, especially if one provided a historical framework that enabled students to progress.

However, the picture I have painted above has not been shared in the media and as a history teacher I am frankly bored of being undermined, humiliated and bullied by ‘experts’ who have little knowledge of how we work. Much of the debate recently has been dominated by experts (the majority of whom are university academics) who clearly have limited or no experience of being in a school classroom or the pressures or difficulties of teaching teenage children. It’s obvious in their arguments or responses that few have even read the curriculum proposal.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think these people should have a say. They should. Everyone should be entitled to their share their opinions. All I am asking is that these people base their opinions on experience and fact, not hearsay.

History teachers work hard, love their subject and try their bloody hardest to make their students think the same. It’s just a shame most people don’t see this.

Rant over.


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One Response to Stop bullying the history teacher!

  1. Pete Laberge says:

    Sigh. C’est la vie. Let me tell you a little story…
    If you read to the end, it may be worth your while!

    I have studied much history. “They” forced me to. And, yet… Might I ask “What was the point or use of it?” I never earned a dime from any of it. (Yet: I earned 7 years living from an H&R Block tax course…) There was not huge amounts of personal satisfaction, in learning/knowing the history. (Most people have thought me weird for my interests in it! Boy have I been teased!) And as I have aged, I have (sadly) forgotten most of it. Worse, almost every single day, I hear that some “history fact” that I thought I knew, and had learned properly, is or was wrong. I have no mind for names or dates, so ask me none of those. I did have an interest in the stories themselves though. Bits of them, I do recall….

    Sigh. It seems that Napoleon told the truth, when he said: “History is a conveniently arranged set of lies.” Henry Ford was more succinct: “History is bunk!” Let us face it, the subject has a “bad rap”. And teachers associated with it are seen as plodding, boring, and not too glamourous. A quick suggestion: You history teachers need to liven up a bit! And the subject needs to have some pizzaz added to it! A “raison d’etre”, so to speak! As Prime Minister Jean Chretien used to say… “It is all a matter of pu-pu-la-ri-ty!”

    I cannot say I did not enjoy the actual courses i took, or SOME of the teachers themselves. The several nuns, I forgot their names. They were all a “Sister Maria Whatever”…. Yawn! The 3 (almost 4) gentlemen, I do, oddly, recall: Mr. Ference, 6th grade. It was a sort of history/Civics/Man-and-Society Mix. I do not recall his first name. Mr Jack Rickard I do recall. High School, It was the History of America (USA) and it’s place in the world. Covered up to 1972. Not of much use in Ontario Canada, where I am now! And Tom “Cool” McCool, Grades 12&13 at CVDCS. Later Dr. Tom McCool, who went and taught at ASU. European History. France, before, during, and after the Revolution. Napoleon and Prince Metternich. WWI, and a smattering of WWII. An incredible lecturer/teacher. Even I, who suffer from Aspergers, and “was the kid who looked out the window”, was fascinated by his antics….. There are history teachers, and then there are HISTORY TEACHERS. And Mr McCool, was the latter type.

    And then, there was, for 2 days, Dr. Graham Mount, at LU. He asked me why I was interested in his course. I did not know. He told me that “The only purpose of a history teacher, was to manufacture another history teacher. So unless I was interested in that, maybe his course was not for me.” (He had more to say, but it is not relevant to this matter.) Wise advice. But, he had learned that my ability to learn and recall names and dates was non-existent. Years later, I called him, and we talked about WWII and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for almost 1 hour. Some guy had written a letter (full of BS) to the newspaper. I had thought so, and Dr. Mount confirmed it. He later wrote a letter, explaining the truth, to the paper. All these guys were great men. All, are now, sadly, gone. All are missed. At least by me.

    Mind you, they also made me study biology and chemistry for 2 years each. What use I got out of THAT, I do not know! Same thing with 4 years of algebra! And so too many people who went through school, now question what they were taught, what the use of it was, and what the benefits thereof were. (Thus making history teachers a victim of this thinking.) In fact, I read an article on the net by a professor recently, who says that teaching biology, chemistry, algebra, and history in school, is a waste of time…. He had some interesting suggestions. (I never figured out how serious he actually was in his diatribe.)

    But… take me as a “lousy example product” of the system: I hold a grade 8 diploma, and grade 12 and 13 diplomas, as well as a BA and a Comm.Dip. Plus some other courses. In none of that education, did I learn how to do my own income taxes! That I learned at the suggestion of my aunt Yvonne, who paid for my first course! Thanks auntie! Thanks to that, I have saved myself some $50 a year, for over 30 years, and helped countless others. And earned a living, for as I noted, 7 years.)

    So this, then, is the reason you get bullied:
    Most people do not see a great deal of value, other than personal satisfaction, in what you teach. Compared to teaching math, teaching history is seen as rather easy.
    It is certainly less dangerous than chemistry. Poor Carl Benson and Jack Ceming! But then, I blew up a half-a- dozen chem labs. Not on purpose, mind you. It is just that when it came to experiments, well, mine tended to end up with some explosive learning…. Well, they had some explosive experiments too. I once was absent one fateful Monday. When I came in, in a wheelchair, (bad accident) on Tuesday, Jack Ceming hugged me. I usually, sat at the front (blind as a bat & bad hearing to boot). One of Jack’s experiments/demonstrations on Monday, ended up with a rather spectacular bang. Had I been sitting at my usual lab bench, I would have been killed. The bench itself was somewhat damaged…

    But history? Bird course. Look… No matter how many times you teach it, 1776 is still 1776! And 1789, will never change. Beowulf wins, while Napoleon still always loses at Waterloo! WWI and WWII always end the same. ETC! That is why most people do not see much use to history. All you need to teach history, is a half-way decent memory for dates, names, and a couple of stories, and a good deck of 4×6 index cards. (Or a couple of good Prezis, or Powerpoints.)

    I could lie to you, but, would you not prefer the truth, of what people “out there” see? I am thus explaining WHY you get bullied. CONFESSION: My knowledge of history did help me to understand and enjoy greatly, Lincoln: Vampire Killer, Farewell My Queen, and Les Miserables. (If you are a true history teacher, I suspect you now want me guillotined! Get in line. There are a number of people ahead of you…)

    I can prove it to you, by recent events from US politics. In the last 2 elections (so some 6 years of history, as of 2013), a number of very wealthy, very prominent, very famous people ran for President/Vice President. They will go down in the history books, having done precisely nothing for the world, or even their country. They did do a lot for themselves… But that is a different issue. And let me recite a few of some of the wonderful historical truths they “re-educated” us with:

    1. The Battle of Bunker Hill (Not Breed’s and Bunker’s hills!) took place in New Hamshire, nowhere near Boston Massachusetts.
    2. John Wayne, the Duke, was born in…. Oh, wait, that was another John Wayne!
    3. Paul Revere told the British to be “very scared of us ‘Mericans, cuz wez got guns!” (Please do not get me started on this one!)
    4. The Texans (Not Texicans!) won at the Alamo….
    5. “America alone” won WWI and WWII. Nope, France, England, Russia, and the “Kanuckistan, home of the 9-1-1 Terrorists”, were I come from, did nothing in either…
    6. America needs to build a “Moon Base” because this will fix the economy, and education. This got a certain politician noticed, and the media called him “the most scientific of the lot”. YUK! He is a “professor” of Elizabethan History. He charged the USA over a million dollars to compile a data set of historical interest rates. (Something useless, and probably best done by an accountant, anyway.) Talk about giving history teachers a bad name!
    7. Hunting, shooting, killing, and field dressing Grizzly Bears, and taking your kids to hockey… is more than adequate preparation for becoming POTUS!!!!!
    8. The USA has 57 states!

    I could go on, but I will spare you. Besides, I am ready to throw up. Just writing the above points…. was, to me, worse than fingernails grating on a chalk board, for an hour. I apologize for torturing you as well. (I need some Tums.)

    And how many grade school, high school, college, and university history teachers had kanipshen fits, over this? Not enough. Worse, how many of them voted for such an individual, because he or she was of the political party they favoured? Gahhhhh! (My BA is in Political Science and Economics, with background Commerce courses.) Truly, the whole world is no more than a Dilbert comic….

    So…. Of what use then, is knowing history? The people who said the things above, have all earned great livings, and become wealthy and famous, and have earned a place in the history books. WHILE KNOWING ALMOST NONE OF IT THEMSELVES! Sad, very sad. But, I guess we cannot entirely blame their teachers. The school boards, the system, and these people themselves, share considerable guilt. Indeed, maybe their history teachers were/are the true victims.

    My friend, we are not bullying history teachers. Cripes, they almost invited us to! They opened the door, and left it wide open for us to tease them. How? See above!

    Let me tell you how to fix it:
    They (real history teachers, not the fake ones) have to stand up! Speak for themselves! Defend their subject! Popularize it! Make it useful, needed, and loved! They have to make the subject relevant to today! And they have to make it something that even candidates for President have an interest in. And something that every man and woman becomes curious about. Not just shovel it into kids. And they have to roll up their sleeves, get to work, say “Yes we can!” and git her done.

    Here is one man, that is ranting also, (More so than you, even!), but he is your compatriot in the trenches, or to grab a line from Les Mis “… at the barricade…”
    He is also on Facebook and Twitter. Search for Keith (Hip) Hughes.
    Then there is this lady (and her creative partner), whose music videos, yes, sometimes are over the top, but she claims to be getting people’s (kids and adults) attention.
    She is also on Facebook and Twitter, and elsewhere. Google Amy Burvall.

    So, you are not alone. You have a few allies. Et mois? Oh, I am the advocatus diaboli. But sometimes such pains in the “south” are needed. Take care.

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