17) Telling stories or teaching historical thinking

Siobhan Glanvill-Miller Wits School
of Education
Telling stories or teaching historical
thinking? (The dilemma of school
history in democratic South Africa)
What is school history today?
• Influenced by the British Schools Council
Project 1972- “Doing history” rather than
“telling the story and memorizing the facts.”
• Wineburg (1991) “Unnnatural way of
thinking”- Sourcing, contextualizing,
corroborating and close-reading.
• Seixas et al – Canadian Benchmarks of
Historical Thinking- “The Big Six”
Peter Seixas (2000) : Three Options
• The Best Story Approach- “The power of the
story to define who we are in the
present…Consistent with an authoritarian
political culture”
• The Disciplinary Approach- “history as a way of
knowing…suited to the education of critical
citizens in a liberal democracy.”
• The Postmodern Approach in school? History
and power? Narrativity of history? Historiography
a literary act? Positionality of historians and
texts? Can we ever really know?
Lee and Ashby (2000)
• History in school should be a balance of
substantive knowledge (content and first
order concepts – like revolution, monarchy
etc…) and procedural knowledge (the
processes of doing history – second order
concepts- like sourcing; cause and effect;
multiple perspective taking etc…)
Why Compulsory History?
Political pressure- young people don’t know the
story of their land
- Australia – “black armband history” vs. “Three
Cheers History” = “History Wars”
- Britain- Gove 2011 Parliamentary Debate about
“ the island story”.
- America- American history has always been
compulsory but debates about what and who the
youth don’t know…
- Japan, Nigeria
What is school history in South Africa
20 years into democracy?
CAPS (2011)- Emphasis back to historical content
but states that “History is a process of enquiry” –
8 historical skills emphasize “doing history”.
E.g.. “ Evaluate the usefulness of sources, including
reliability, stereotyping and
subjectivity…Recognize that there is often more
than one perspective of a historical event…
Engage critically with issues of heritage and
public representations of the past…”
What is actually happening as
experienced by Pre-Service educators?
• Comments from Teaching Experience 2014:
• You say that our lessons must be learnercentred and that the learners must “do
history”- the reality is teaching a body of
knowledge using a textbook or a workbook.
• I was not even allowed to use different words
in my power point…
• The learners just fill in missing words or
phrases in workbooks…
What does this reveal about history
• Teachers’ epistemologies? Backgrounds in the
discipline. (copiers, subjectivists,criterialists)
• Teachers are concerned about coverage to meet
assessment requirements and fitting in with the
expectations of institutional classroom
management… Even though they know that
history is a process of enquiry.
• latest matric papers- mainly focus on closereading (getting specific info from the source) a
few questions on reliability… Many questions
begin with ‘explain’…
Why Compulsory History in postapartheid South Africa?
• Lindiwe Sisulu(2013) “What defines us as a people is
our history…”
• SADTU (2014 Draft document) : “ Ultimately the future
preservation of our culture and heritage …means
teaching history as a compulsory subject to provide a
foundation of much needed celebration of our
past…History introduces learners to traditions,
practices, values and norms of the group… Our history
needs to tell a correct story …We understand that
those who are against this call are scared of telling the
real story …The biggest fear is that no-one can tell the
story of South Africa without mentioning the ANC…”
President Zuma 03 October 2014
• SADTU Boksburg Conference:
“ Our children should know the history of their
country…Most importantly our children and the
youth, black and white should know that the
freedom and democracy they live in today, came
through blood, sweat and tears. In this way they
will love their country more and be able to
participate in building a prosperous democracy
where all enjoy the fruits of freedom and
2014 Elections “We have a good story
to tell.” ANC Narrative
What do pre-service educators think?
-”If it is compulsory we will all get work!”
-“History builds a character in a child…we should
learn from each other…we need patriotic
- “We are a rainbow nation…history is a way
-“History has its own unique skills.”
-“We should know what makes our nation
Pre-Service Educators against
compulsory history
• “How will we address all the different
• “Not one definition of truth…we should rather
not impose one truth. There is still evidence
we don’t know.”
• “Do we just want African-centred children? Do
we really want to be Americans?”
• “There will be ‘othering’. Are we preparing our
learners to be South Africans or Earthlings?”
“Best Story”; “Disciplinary” or
“Postmodern?” (Seixas)
“If we had an easy consensus on collective
memory, a knowledge of the past through
tradition, then school history could be
mobilized for a coherent social purpose. But,
the lack of consensus is precisely what thrusts
us beyond school history as consensual
tradition, into the realm of history as a
disciplinary practice. Disciplinary history
provides students with standards for inquiry,
investigation, and debate.”(2000. p.34)
• Seixas, P. (2000). “Schweigen! Die Kinder! Or,
Does Postmodern History Have a Place in the
• DBE. RSA.(2011) Curriculum and Assessment
Policy Statement. (CAPS).History.
• SADTU Draft Document. “The importance of
Teaching History as a Compulsory Subject.”
• Smillie, S. “History ensures we remember who we
are.” The Star. Tuesday December 24 2013.p8
References ctd
• http://www.sabreakingnews.co.za/2014/10/0
3/our-children-should-know-the-history-oftheir-country (Downloaded 10/08/2014)
• Jerm Cartoon. eNCA.com 14/3/2014

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