Richard Kennett writes…
Helen Snelson and I have just returned from the annual EUROCLIO conference in Gdansk. If you don’t know, EUROCLIO is the umbrella organisation for all the national organisations of history teachers across the continent; the HA is a member. There were over 150 history teachers from a huge variety of countries with us in Poland. It was an ace weekend working with colleagues who share the goal of improving students’ understanding of the past. Exchanging ideas and listening to others is such a great way to get new perspectives on our own practice.
But in the run up to the conference, during the weekend and in the days afterwards, I have not been able to stop thinking about the impact Brexit could have. The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU at some point in the next year (or will it?) and it was difficult not to think about this and ponder its implications.
At these meetings it is always quite a surprise to me how advanced history teaching is in the UK and how we take this for granted. We have a flexible national curriculum that many of us can choose to follow or not. It is second nature that we use primary sources and interpretations in our classrooms. We nurture our students to debate the past and form their own opinions. We want our students to think historically and we design our lessons around this as a key feature.
This is not the case in every history classroom across the continent. In some places the curriculum is imposed from above and is detailed to the point of inflexibility. Often these curricula are designed around a specific national narrative where key parts of the past are glossed over, or ignored entirely. Giving students the chance to have their own say or thinking historically is seen as bizarre. Interpretations are not challenged and are presented as fact. Sources are not used.
Although not always, this often occurs in those countries that are inward looking. Those countries where extreme nationalism is on the rise and the far right are making headway in the polls. At the moment all the UK history teachers I know are outward looking and aspire to teach many perspectives. We would fight for historical thinking to remain in our classrooms, as would history teachers in many other countries across Europe.
But my concern is that Brexit could lead us to look less often across that narrow strip of water to the continent and could encourage us to look inward. We could become less multi-perspective and this could help to fuel a rise in extreme nationalism. When/if Brexit happens, we need to ensure that we remain in the group of European countries whose history teaching profession is respected across the world. To do this we need to work to continue to be outward looking and to defend the glorious elements of our practice.
Britain is remaining part of the Council of Europe and so we will continue to be a part of EUROCLIO. If you don’t know who they are, look up their mission, sign up for their projects and continue their blooming ace work with other like-minded people from across the continent and beyond.
(…and do join the #OBHD conversation by following the HA on Facebook and @histassoc!)