As the reaction to the government’s announcement last month that it was planning to legislate to protect public statues from removal “on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob” shows, history is capable of stirring the emotions like no other academic subject (though religious education sometimes comes a close second). It is no surprise then that changes to the history curriculum in schools, such as those brought in by Michael Gove when he was education secretary, always provoke impassioned debate.
Part of the problem is that it is difficult to avoid politicising the debate about the teaching of history. The left is quick to accuse right-wing proponents of change of seeking to impose a whitewashed curriculum made up of a ‘greatest hits’ of Britain’s past glories, taught by rote. The right, meanwhile, speaks of inbuilt left-wing bias and a preoccupation with ‘woke’ issues like protest and identity, often conflating its criticisms with accusations of ‘trendy’ teaching methods that have undermined standards.
The study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. Through history children develop an increased sense of belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours.
Life-based learning promotes the study of history through the lens of community. History helps children to identify with their community and to appreciate the benefits of community. As a result, they are more likely to be motivated to become active citizens, contributing to the making of history by sharing in the life of the community, joining in community activity and looking out for others in need of care and support.
Through the study of local history, children learn about things that have made their community what it is — the events that shaped it, the movements of people in to and out of the community, and the development of work and leisure opportunities and features of interest in the area over the decades and centuries. Through national history, meanwhile, children explore national and international events that shaped the community, particularly times when people have pulled together in the face of adversity.
Life-based learning was first developed as a response to weaknesses in the National Curriculum. Community is one of the nine learning themes of life-based learning. It is an attempt to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.
The use of the ‘community’ concept to frame learning in history, social geography and citizenship deepens children’s understanding of — and strengthens their commitment to — society.
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The image at the head of this article is from the Wikipedia page of the International Slavery Museum, which is in Liverpool. The author is identified as Rept0n1x