5) History teachers as activists.

History and Action
People make choices. Choices make
Facing History and Ourselves provides
ideas, methods, and tools that
support the practical needs, and the
spirits, of educators worldwide who
share the goal of creating a better,
more informed, and more thoughtful
“Facing History believes that the lifeblood
of democracy is the ability of every rising
generation to be active, responsible
decision-makers. And we believe that
inspired teachers and innovative methods
are the key. We work with educators
around the world throughout their careers
to improve their effectiveness in the
classroom, as well as their students’
academic performance, historical
understanding, and civic learning.”
History taught in a particular way, enables
transformative dialogue, fosters empathy and
reflection, and improves students’ academic
performance. Through rigorous investigation of
the events that led to the Holocaust and other
recent examples of genocide and mass
violence, students in a Facing History class
learn to choose knowledge over
misinformation, compassion over prejudice or
bullying, and participation over indifference or
resignation. It’s active—rather than passive—
learning. Interrogate bystanders , perpetrators,
collaborators,victims, and resistors.
The National Curriculum Statement Grades R12 is based on the following principles:
• Social transformation: ensuring that the
educational imbalances of the past are
redressed, aims at developing critical thinkers
sensitive to imbalances in society, and the
need for social justice, in order to prepare
young people to live responsible lives
The NCS states that the teaching of
History should explain why there are
different interpretations
of historical events and
peoples’ actions. Linked to this is the
attempt to understand why people made
the choices they did at the time,
demonstrating that “problem solving
contexts do not exist in isolation”
Historical knowledge is …carefully and
critically constructed collective memory. As
such it can both make us wiser in our public
choices and more richly human in our
private lives” William H. McNeill, author
and Prof of History Emeritus at University
of Chicago
Individual memory shapes identity.
Collective memory can be a guide for
public action. This is not static. Changing
perspectives of historical understanding
are the very best introduction to the
practical problems of real life. Thus
changing interpretations help critical
thinking and the interrogation of
Broadly three tiers of
History are needed to
bring some sort of order
to the variety of things
known. Local, National
and Global.
In SA, the History syllabus does have
elements of all these levels, but the
method of teaching children to
interrogate History in terms of choices
people made, is important for turning
facts into events or terrain that people
negotiated and made choices within, for
different reasons. Understanding this will
help children question their role in the
future and assist their ability to make
Some children do not have any
information to interrogate their past and
understand the role their community
played in History or the choices their
parents made: this has possible
implications for their choices in the future
eg. SAHA’s project on Land, the aftermath
of the 1913 Land Act and Forced
Removals, led to me re-visiting 3
communities I used to work with as a
Black Sash – TRAC fieldworker
Part of the gr 9 curriculum – Case
study under Apartheid
• Some of the key turning points in South African history,
including the coming of apartheid in 1948 and nonviolent
• resistance to apartheid
• The Mogopa story includes various steps in the Forced
removal to Pachsdraai in Bophuthatswana, decision to
resist and go to paramount Chief in Bethanie in Bop,
brief sojurn at Onderstepoort and final return to
Mogopa land after tribal tactics and court case. Each
step included splits in the tribe, different choices and
debates, and the splits remain today
Different ways of collecting
information were used
• Research in archives of SAHA
• Interviews with older members of the
• workshops
• I ran workshops with the youth in each
• Asked what they knew of Land Act, Bantustans
• What did they know about the removal tactics
and reasons for removal or incorporation
• What did they know of their community’s
response to the above
• Photos were handed out and documents from
the time.
• Youth could discuss and comment on these.
• Feedback was given on the above and then
youth were asked what community problems
they currently face
• Youth were asked what their aspirations were
• 2/3 of the communities visited did not offer
History in the High School.
• Most Youth were singularly uninformed or
misinformed about the Land Act and the
Bantustans and the reasons for the forced
removal or threat of incorporation into the
• Many questions were asked.
Ways forward
• Many of the Youth were extremely interested in
the documents, photos and TRAC profiles of their
community and the role played by elders against
the threat of removal or incorporation
• Youth expressed a renewed respect for the
leaders with this knowledge
• In spite of the frustrations they faced in the
community in terms of unemployment , Youth
expressed interest in finding a way to contribute
to the future of the community to build on the
sacrifice their elders had made.
• In the one community, there were many
tensions due to the splits forced removals had
created as people made different choices in
the process.
• It was important for the Youth to understand
why the current tensions exist due to these
historical choices, before any unification can
take place in the future.
• There was an interest and a yearning to know
• An expression of wanting to play a role
• Wanting to be consulted as the Youth so that
they may play a role – felt frustrated at
traditional roles in the village and wanted to
get involved.
• Knowledge is power and the more youth are informed
the better they can interrogate problems of their
environment and try and be part of a solution
• SA history of community struggles needs to be broken
down into choices people made, and reasons
interrogated to lead to realistic understanding of
tensions communities face today.
• Without History ( institutional memory?) in a
community, relations between the youth and the
elders was impoverished, and would potentially affect
choices Youth made.

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