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Yesterday & today = Gister & vandag: 1996 No 32

Boloka/Manakin Repository

Yesterday & today = Gister & vandag: 1996 No 32

 

Contents

No. 32, October 1996

Articles

Editorial

It has become fashionable with management experts who offer in-service training for the personnel of organisations to stress that the development of management skills begins with and is directed by the vision of the organisation of its direction, or its mission, which implies more than a mission, namely a combination of an ideal (the vision) with a strategy (commitment) to achieve that vision. The problem with vision and mission is that it so easily becomes a play of words, often used to justify existing or desired practices, and that it fmds limited reflection in the daily practices of the organisation. Where, however, on the other hand it succeeds in inspiring people with an ideal and the will and ability to transform that ideal into reality, it is a strong motivating factor, which unlocks energy and potential.

The realistic insight engendered by historical studies, viz that there is little new that has not yet found expression somewhere in the past, of course forces one to proclaim that the enthusiasm with which mission. and vision is lauded as the key to a corporate model and image, is really only a new way of looking at the old concepts of task, role, function, aims and objectives. This is something very familiar to a subject like History. History always had to justify its role and function, objectives and aims, within a changing society and an ever-changing education system. That is why from time to time an investigation into the teaching of History is launched in most developed countries.

It is also true of the position of History in South Africa today. That is why it is perhaps good to be reminded of the four basic attitudes towards history, and by implication towards History as a discipline or subject!

  • The ostrich attitude. The ostrich is associated with its fond habit of pushing its head into the soil when it finds itself in circumstances that it cannot handle. It tries to escape in this manner by denying that there exists a reality of which it should keep account. People who adopt an ostrich attitude towards history wish to deny that there is something called a past that must be taken into account, that has a specific relevance and meaning, and must therefore be coped with. Through such an attitude one bluffs no-one but oneself.

  • The fan club. Sport teams and pop stars depend on fan clubs to promote their popularity. People who venerate the past as a romantic, successful and inspiring bygone that rise high above the shortcomings and decay of the present day, do the same thing. They long for "the good old days". This veneration encourages a conforming relationship with the past, or is used to mobilise people on behalf of events, interests, symbols or ideals of the past. It is an attitude of "Lest we forget ... " and makes one a slave of the past.

  • The rebel posture. This is the opposite of the admirers' club. The rebel is in revolt. He resists the past as part of an order to be demolished and destroyed. Nothing from the past is good or precious. The past is the target and symbol against which he is in revolt, it must be annihilated. Such a nihilistic attitude in the end leaves you with only the ruins of your own world.

  • The relay athlete who has to run his lap of the relay. While he waits his turn he has to watch the progress of his friends running the earlier laps. If they do well and take the lead, his chances are improved, but his responsibilities become greater. To see his friends fall behind or stumble is to see his chances becoming poorer and his task tougher. But he has no choice: he must finish his lap of the race to the utmost of his ability.

In history every generation and every individual must run his/her lap of the race, whether the team is ahead or behind. You may not refuse to run. The history teacher is the coach who prepares the athlete. It is he/she who must see to it that the athlete is fit, motivated and equipped for his/her leg of the race.

The vision and mission of History is to prepare young people for their lap in the race of time and life. The teachers unfolds the progress of the race to his pupils, realising that they are preparing themselves to run their lap. Can any school in South Africa afford to be without this vision and mission?

In this edition we report on schools that are realising this vision and mission in exemplary fashion. Congratulations and thanks to those schools, teachers and pupils who demonstrated in the History Olympiad and the Young Historians Competition that they are prepared, fit, motivated and equipped to finish their part of the race.

Will History disappear?

A remark by an official of the Department of National Education in a radio broadcast has caused great concern among History teachers. In a radio interview the official suggested that traditional subjects like History and Geography were under discussion and he hinted that they may disappear from the school curriculum in their present form to be replaced by something else. He did not spell out what that something else may be. It is understandable that this remark has led to uneasiness among teachers of these two subjects and that rumours are rife. Following the shock waves of ill-planned transformation and experimentation that the teaching fraternity was exposed to over the last two years, another catastrophe is the last thing education needs.

A lot of discussion is at present being conducted on several key issues with a direct bearing on all school subjects. It is also true that there are ideas that imply that History and Geography may be replaced as autonomous and independent subjects by a vague new concept of an integrated learning experience in the human and social sciences, whatever that may mean.

One of these areas of discussion is the drafting of outcome and assessment criteria for the new curriculum. It is important for teachers to know that History is represented in this process. There are eight Areas of Learning Committees (ALC's) . In one of these - Human and Social Sciences - History takes a central position. In two other ALC's - Arts and Culture and Life Orientation the historical dimension should and must also be taken into account. This is the positive side. On the negative side the mere existence of such a general committee creates the opportunity for people to promote the idea that it is possible to replace traditional and very well established disciplines with a subject that does not exist in the academic world - something called Humanities or Social Science or even Community Studies. Beware South Africa of the day that such an untried subject with all the possibilities for ideological manipulation be introduced into the very sensitive education field.

If one analyses the outcomes for the Human and Social Sciences drafted at a workshop held in Johannesburg from the 16 to the 20th October, it is reassuring to note that by far the majority of these outcomes deal with History. Twelve of the sixteen are direct outcomes of History teaching while the remaining four can all be accommodated in History. The twelve are:

  • Develop an understanding of continuity and change.

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the nature of sources and evidence.

  • Apply effective research methods and appropriate skills in a range of contexts.

  • Contribute to society through problem solving.

  • Apply multiperspectives in the use of knowledge.

  • Analyse patterns in different times and places.

  • Critically analyse and interpret past and contemporary issues.

  • Recognise the significance of diversity within the global community.

  • Participate actively in promoting a sustainable, just and equitable society.

  • Develop empathy in people.

  • Appreciate the aesthetics of the human and natural environment.

  • Analyse the role of organisations and structures in society.

The four outcomes with which History can easily be associated are:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the interrelationships between society and the environment.

  • Demonstrate an ability to use appropriate technology to contribute effectively to development.

  • Identify and access career opportunities.

  • Analyse the role of organisations and structures in society.

A natural reaction to this list of outcomes could be: words , words, words that mean nothing without concrete content. But that is exactly where the challenge and opportunity for History lies. The comparison with the athlete in our first leader is a demonstration of the actuality of and need for History in every school curriculum.

It is also essential to remind curriculum designers that History as an autonomous subject is the most integrated discipline of all disciplines in the academic world.

It could well be argued that History teachers would most probably prefer to suggest several improvements to these outcomes if History was the only discipline to be taken into account. But one should accept that these outcomes must necessarily be more comprehensive and general to meet the requirements of all the Human and Social Sciences. What is important however, is the fact that these outcomes represent the heart of History as a school discipline. It will be very difficult to achieve these outcomes by replacing History as an independent and autonomous subject with a subject that has no academic and disciplinary support. It is up to historians and teachers to seize the opportunity to make an innovative and creative contribution to the education of our children for life, not only for a career.

Remember the saying in the first leader: You can love history, or you can hate it but you cannot ignore it. Nor can you try to sweep it under the carpet, or even worse, try to run away from it.

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