This House believes that history has no place in the classroom

The option to study past societies is present in most school systems, and is often compulsory at primary school and in the early years of secondary school. Debate about the teaching of History in schools is particularly prominent and heated in East Asia: China and South Korea object to modern Japanese textbooks, approved by the Japanese government, which sometimes omit or marginalize atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the 1930s and 1940s. The approval of such textbooks prompted violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in several Chinese cities in April 2005. However, the issue is of broader significance: arguably all historical writing is coloured by the conscious and subconscious prejudices and preoccupations of its authors. This debate assesses the extent of these influences, but also calls for consideration of whether the benefits of historical study outweigh any drawbacks that may result from such bias.

Title 
History should be left for those intellectual capable of understanding its limitations, and therefore not taught at school
Point 

Even if no agenda is being consciously or subconsciously pursued, school pupils are presented with oversimplified information in History. This is a result of the limited time available, the limited intellectual capacity of pupils, the limited knowledge of many teachers (who may not be history specialists, especially in primary schools) and the desire for answers that can be labelled as "correct" or "incorrect" in examinations. Much school history teaching is therefore concerned simply with memorising "facts". However, such learning needs to be accompanied by a deeper understanding of events, lacking definitive answers but providing a narrative to give the 'facts' (often figures) meaning. As schools recognize this is beyond most students, they struggle to make time spent in history lessons conducive; a study in America found that only 20 percent of fourth graders were proficient in history, while that dropped to 12 per cent for high school seniors1.
Resmovits, Joy. "U.S. History Test Scores Stagnate As Education Secretary Arne Duncan Seeks 'Plan B'." Huffington Post. June 14, 2011. (accessed July 14, 2011).

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Counterpoint 

Where there is uncertainty, this can and should be highlighted if pupils have the intellectual capacity to understand the debate. Much of the benefit of studying History is that it is not (or should not be) solely based upon the learning of facts. Rather, History develops the ability to evaluate and challenge different interpretations. If historical study were postponed to adulthood, this would mean that most people would learn no History, unless they chose to study for a History degree. And it is impossible to escape any discussion of History in adult life - there are many television programmes and press articles devoted to historical subjects every day, and politicians constantly refer to past events to justify their actions. Only if citizens are equipped at school to question such historical interpretations can the public avoid being misled.

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Title 
History teaching will reflect the erroneous preconceptions and aims of those who set the curriculum
Point 

History is not objective and, in schools, historical fact is at the mercy of those in control of the curriculum. Even when there is no attempt to deceive or manipulate, postmodernist critiques of history suggest all history teaching will reflect the preconceptions and aims of those who set and teach the curriculum. The British government announced in early 2006 that history taught in schools should seek to engender a sense of "Britishness" by stressing a shared political and cultural heritage1. The Education Secretary at the time asked schools to 'play a leading role in creating community cohesion' by doing so1. Even if no historical events are invented as such, this will nevertheless lead to an unbalanced account, in which events that support modern political/social ends are highlighted and others receive less attention. The principle that such tainted information, whether implicit or explicit, can be taught to children is dangerous.
BBC News. "Schools 'must teach Britishness'." BBC News. January 25, 2007. (accessed July 14, 2011).

Counterpoint 

What is taught in history will never be 100% accurate, but it is possible for historians to achieve a considerable degree of objectivity, especially if they seek to be aware of the influences upon their own thinking. Part of most secondary school history curricula is the consideration of how historians are affected by the context in which they write: this equips pupils to consider critically what they are being taught and why they are being taught it. Moreover, it can be argued that worthwhile ends (e.g. the good relations between different ethnic communities sought by the British government) justify some selection of the history that is taught to schoolchildren. After all, it isn't possible to teach children everything about all historical periods, so there must be some criteria for making choices about what would be most valuable to study. A 'British' history curriculum will aid integration and encourage multi-culturalism within the country, without sacrificing truth, merely breadth.

Title 
History lessons can be used as state-sponsored propaganda, distorting the events of the past
Point 

History taught in schools sometimes involves flagrant distortion of historical evidence either by the State or by individual teachers. Attempts may be made to avoid nasty aspects of a nation's past (e.g. the massacre of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers at Nanking in 1937) and/or to put down other peoples (e.g. the presentation of Australian Aboriginals as uncivilized until the 1960s). Japan's attempt to erase the memory of Nanking in its schoolchildren began in 1950s when it banned a third of all textbooks and 'Nanking Massacre simply disappeared' from their history1. As well as these extreme examples, low-level anti-Americanism is arguably pervasive in modern French school textbooks, reflecting tensions between France and the USA arising from the latter's Gaullist heritage and the recent "War on Terror". It is highly undesirable for school pupils to be exposed to misinformation peddled in History classes, which can lead to violence, hatred or discrimination.
Chapel, Joseph. "Denying Genocide: The Evolution of the Denial of the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre." University of California: Santa Barbara. May 2004. (accessed July 14, 2011).

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Counterpoint 

Isolated instances in which history has been used for propaganda purposes do not reflect a dangerous subject, merely dangerous regimes. The vast majority of History teaching does not seek to promote such agendas. It is common sense to tailor the national history curriculum to the nation in which it is being taught, and very easily achieved without constituting propaganda. Recent studies have shown it is common for states to focus heavily on their national history, 'setting out key events that shaped the national story as compulsory knowledge'1. Furthermore, all subjects can be distorted if the State and its teachers are prepared to try hard enough - for example, under the Nazis German children were taught Mathematics with a heavy emphasis upon military applications (e.g. calculating angles and ranges for artillery). Instead of banning the subject, what is needed is proper inspection of schools and monitoring of the curriculum, under the control of a democratic government.
Baker, Mike. "History study needs fact first, analysis later." The Guardian. February 18, 2011. (accessed July 14, 2011).

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Title 
Teaching history ensures that events of the past are not forgotten, and lessons are learned
Point 

"Organized forgetting" of the past does not lead to harmony: those who allege historic wrongs are unlikely to forget them and will be aggrieved at attempts to deny the significance of the events concerned. This is seen in the Chinese outcry at Japanese attempts to forget the Rape of Nanking; the international attention drawn to the issue led to attempts within Japan itself to re-introduce the event into history textbooks1. By 1997, all Japanese textbooks included the event, signalling a shift towards a closer relationship with China, their long-term rivals1. Friendship often results from shared recognition of past wrongs, and a resolve not to repeat past injustices and mistakes; studying the past is essential for this. History teaching in schools is especially important when tensions are present: those who set and teach the curriculum can and should strive to be impartial, to counter one-sided historical narratives to which pupils may be exposed by their families and the media.

Chapel, Joseph. "Denying Genocide: The Evolution of the Denial of the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre." University of California: Santa Barbara. May 2004. (accessed July 14, 2011).

 

Counterpoint 

The teaching of history does not either to the maintenance of memory or the learning of lessons. Examples have shown that states can use history lessons to in fact erase certain memories, denying any lessons to future generations. Furthermore, teaching history encourages people to become obsessed with past conflicts and alleged wrongs inflicted upon them; it is more productive to forget the past and to seek friendship in the present. For example, modern tensions would be reduced if pupils in Ireland were no longer taught about the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and pupils in South Asia stopped learning about conflicts following the Partition between India and Pakistan (1947).

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Title 
Historical facts can be established to a sufficient degree to be taught to schoolchildren
Point 

For most post-medieval periods, it is possible to establish such "facts" with a very high degree of probability. To take the Holocaust as an example, fears of the events being erased out of history books drove Dwight Eisenhower to travel to Germany to witness the aftermath first-hand. The future American President was driven by a desire to be able to 'testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda'1. Furthermore, even if the historical facts are not as clearly evident as the Holocaust, and have to be simplified, this need not be "intellectually dangerous": it is impossible to prove that a real harm results from only knowing the academically dominant interpretation of a historical episode, even if it might be theoretically desirable to consider minority viewpoints too. Indeed, all school teaching involves simplification and generalization: much school science teaching entails discussion of how general rules (learned earlier during a pupil's school career) are not always applicable.
Chapel, Joseph. "Denying Genocide: The Evolution of the Denial of the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre." University of California: Santa Barbara. May 2004. (accessed July 14, 2011).

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Counterpoint 

Historical facts cannot be established to a sufficient degree to justify history being taught as a subject in school. Though there are certain facts that are beyond question, history is about more than the accumulation of facts but the creation of a narrative. Narratives in history are constantly subject to changes as further evidence comes to hand. Young students should not be forced to learn a narrative that may become redundant in the week between history lessons. Furthermore, though Eisenhower meant well, he could only ever control events in the United States, if Germany had decided to censor their textbooks, as the Japanese did, in the wake of World War II, his protests would have fallen on deaf ears and done little to ensure the German youth knew of the horrors of the Holocaust. As such, it is necessary to restrict history lessons to the youth; once mature and reasoned, they will be much better placed to evaluate and study history in depth.

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Title 
History should be taught to school-children, they form an integral part of understanding oneself and one's nation
Point 

Historical events, no matter how tragic, gruesome or embarrassing, should be taught in schools in order to provide a basis for the youth to explore their own identity and that of their nation. Children should therefore not be shielded from reality, but be taught, in an appropriate manner, about all manner of relevant historical events. In so doing, they will not leave school with a false image of reality, or of whom they are and where they live. Only then will they be prepared for the very worst life will throw at them. For example, Australian school children are unlikely to fully appreciate the plight of their Aboriginal compatriots without a thorough understanding of the British discovery of the island and subsequent governmental policy that oppressed the native population. As the future leaders of tomorrow, it is essential that the youth are given the broadest, most accurate platform on which to build their own perceptions of life.

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Counterpoint 

History does offer a source for understanding oneself and one's nation, but that no reason to teach it at school. In fact, the centrality of history to identity is an argument in favour of leaving history lessons until students are old enough to weigh sources and evaluate arguments themselves. Australian school children don't need to be taught specifics about the history of their nation at school in order to develop into well rounded, reasoned adults. In fact, they are more likely to better understand the plight of the native aboriginals if they are only introduced to the historical specifics of the case at a later, more mature age.

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Title 
History teaches useful skills applicable in other areas of education and life
Point 

History teaches many useful skills, which are of great value to both individuals and the economy. These include the ability to think critically and construct reasoned arguments, an awareness of differing points of view and understanding of cultures (both one's own and those of others). Essays on historical events or figures require an original, structured argument and an evaluation of sources, skills that have relevance in other areas of education. Furthermore, the humility necessary to accept the limitations of historical research are instrumental in encouraging multi-culturalism in society and respect for views one might not initially understand.

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Counterpoint 

History teaching is a waste of time, particularly at school, where it often revolves around the learning of names and dates. Antiquarian knowledge is of no practical use; pupils should spend more time learning sciences and vocational subjects. It is dangerous to both pupils' employment prospects and the economy as a whole for time to be spent studying History at school.

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