Saturday, 2 March 2013

History in Schools

Recently there was a news in England about whether History should be taught in schools in a chronological order.

I think the real question is should history be taught in school at all? Especially in countries where there is little respect for freedom of speech and where educational institutions are funded, accredited by a government body.

When educational institutions or it's syllabus is controlled by a group of people i.e say a government body, then what is taught in these institutions could be more less become a government propaganda. For example, according to a wiki entry teaching evolution vs creation in schools is a long standing debate in many countries.1 It also cites how politicians and political parties in various countries had tried to influence the teaching of creation or evolution in educational institutions.

If this is the case for a subject that can be scientifically debated, it gets trickier when it comes to cultural studies like history. A quote from the movie Braveheart summarizes it - "...but history is written by those who have hanged heroes".2 It takes years together for historians to come up with a different take on the actual events happened. And if their version is different against the accepted version, then their work is subject to restriction and ban.

In countries where the academic institutions and its syllabus are controlled by a set of people, they more or less decide what students should learn from their past. Any part of history that is against what they believe in or that could damage the reputation of their beloved leaders is suppressed.

Besides suppressing the texts that are objectionable, control over cultural studies could also pave way to selectively choose a part of history to portray some one as a leader or traitor. LTTE's propaganda in schools for voluntary recruitment is one such example.

"LTTE cadres frequently go into schools to speak about the LTTE, sometimes showing films that show LTTE service in a positive light. For instance, according to the Trincomalee Senior Superintendent of Police, the LTTE in July 2004 provided area teachers and principals with exams on the history of the LTTE to give to their students. "They [LTTE] collect them afterwards. This is part of their propaganda work. The teachers and principals can't refuse because they need to survive. They have to carry out their instructions."3

There are similar examples in other war-ridden countries. In a more civilized country, similar propaganda is possible when the schools are funded by the government or requires accreditation from a government body. In fear of losing funding or accreditation, the schools could be limited to teach only what is allowed by the approving bodies.

 In India, Rohinton Mistry's 'Such a Long Journey' was withdrawn from the syllabus of Mumbai University because it had some derogatory remarks about Maharashtrians and Bal Thackeray.4 Similarly A.K. Ramanujan's 'Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations' was removed from the University of Delhi syllabus as it contradicts the popular version of Ramayana.5  This shows how anything controversial could be possibly censored unless there exists a legitimate independent body that could monitor the contents of the syllabus and prevents censorship.

History is not one dimensional. History is best learnt only when one has access to its multiple perspectives. Access to the woes of India's partition tales would make one realize that the common notion of bloodless India's war of independence is very much a false propaganda. 
History taught in schools with its content enforced by a small group of powerful people makes it more or less one dimensional and a far-fetched reality.


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