Igniting the spark!

This blogpost from Anne Hooper (@Hoops752) was created as a result of thinking following a professional conversation. At the last meeting of HA Secondary Committee Jason Todd (@JJtodd1966) was talking about the need to listen to children and their craving for knowing about the past. What conversations with a colleague have really made you think this month?

What got you into history? I mean what really got you into history? What ignited that passion that led you to a career passing on your love of the subject to young people? Was it a teacher, a particular lesson, a book, a film? For me, I can give you the exact date when the spark ignited. 

I’ll take you back to 11th June 1988.  

I was coming up to thirteen years old and I wasn’t sitting in a history class, but was watching a live televised concert from Wembley Stadium. A concert which celebrated the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela and was highlighting the fact that Mandela was coming up to 25 years in prison. During that concert I heard Simple Minds sing “Mandela Day” and that was that, the spark ignited. Listening to the lead singer, Jim Kerr, sing the lyrics of “held behind four walls all through night and day” and “the children know the story of that man”, I was enthralled by the band and the message. Listening to Peter Gabriel come on stage with them and sing “Biko”, I was becoming conscious of a world I knew nothing about but wanted to know about. A history that I had never come across within the four walls of my school history lessons. The Christmas of 1988, I asked for Donald Woods’s autobiography “Asking for Trouble” about his experience as a banned journalist in South Africa and his biography “Biko.” (The film “Cry Freedom” is based on Donald Woods’ experiences). I encouraged my family to boycott South African produce in the shops, enraged at the history I was reading and the injustice experienced  over 8000 miles away. It is a vivid memory of my teenage years watching the live TV images from Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town on 11th February 1990 when a much older Nelson Mandela walked down the driveway accompanied by his then wife, Winnie. When Wembley hosted another concert in April 1990 I was watching once again to hear Simple Minds perform, this time performing in the presence of the great Mandela himself.   

So what is igniting the passion for history in our students?  It might very well be the lessons in our history curriculum that we have put so much effort into. However, and it is important to remember and to acknowledge, it might be something outside those classroom walls that is capturing their imagination and lighting the spark.

For some of our students perhaps it’s a connection with past generations living through a pandemic and seeing links with the Black Death and Spanish Influenza.  Some will have been keeping diaries to record their experiences from March 2020 and documenting the turbulent two years we’ve experienced. Among these will be our historical documents of the future. For other students the spark has been ignited through the Black Lives Matter movement and watching events unfold both sides of the Atlantic. Arming themselves with knowledge to debate the legacy of Britain’s uncomfortable past and eloquently arguing why statues of individuals so entwined with the slave trade are no longer appropriate for 21st Century Britain. Sometimes it’s the little stories we tell in our classroom that pique their curiosity and encourage them on the path to discovery. 

Inspiration can be found in many places. Certainly, who would have thought that watching  Simple Minds’ performance of “Mandela Day” back in June 1988 would have left such an imprint and had such an influence on me!

What to do with this? Become aware! Have the discussion with your colleagues and remember together when your history spark ignited. Talk to the children you teach – and keep on talking to them – to find out what meanings they are making, and want to make, from the past. The children we teach should help to shape our curriculum. The curriculum should never be so rigid that it excludes the chance for us to fan the flames of interest ignited by a spark from elsewhere.

References: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfk13uUuD8Q&list=RDxfk13uUuD8Q&start_radio=1 Simple Minds Mandela Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewK_Pdj0GCQ Peter Gabriel and Simple Minds “Biko”, Mandela Concert 1988

Woods, D  Asking for TroubleWoods, D  Biko

(As you can tell, this was written before the invasion of Ukraine that began on 24th Feb!)

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