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Historical literacy and transformative history

Peter Lee About the author


History Education, as history itself, is a precarious achievement; and it is vulnerable to political and educational schedules that try to mix it with other parts of the curriculum or reduce it to a medium for citizenship or common patriotic values. If we expect to engage in a serious discussion about History Education in view of these challenges, we should avoid polar opposite mottos as "traditional against progressive", "focused on the child against focused on the subject" and "skills against the contents", which have caused great confusion over literature. In particular, we should avoid talking about competences, with their bad permission granted to convenient and foolish generic curricula. History is a public manner of knowledge and the development of a metacognitive tradition, with its own rules and criteria. There are evidences suggesting that history is counterintuitive, and that understanding it involves altering or even abandoning everyday ideas that make knowledge of the past impossible. Consequently, teaching history involves the development of a second-class conceptual tool that allows history to move forward, instead of making it pause, and making it, it offers the perspective of change of an everyday view of nature and of the state of knowledge of the past to the one in history knowledge. It allows us that we account for the meaning of knowing a little history - a provisional concept of historical literacy - as the learning of a disciplinary understanding of history, as the acquisition of the tools that cause and promote this history understanding, and how the development of an image from the past allows students to find their way in time. There are researches to inform the discussion about the first component, but there is little available to the second. There is a current considerable interest in the third component, but the discussion focused on the perennial matter of the children's "ignorance", instead of recognizing that the problem is to find ways that allow students to acquire usable historical pasts that are not fixed histories. Acquiring historical literacy potentially transforms the world vision of children (and of adults) and it permits actions so far - literally - inconceivable to them. Understanding its importance to the teaching of history means breaking habits of thinking based on an instantaneous present, in which a manner of time apartheid cuts the past from the present and from the future. It means also to unpack the manners in which history can transform how we see the world. Such transformations may be dramatic in large extents, or more located and specific. They may change how we see political or social opportunities and embarrassments, our own or others' identity, our perception of wounds and burdens we inherit, and the adequacy of the explanations of the main characteristics of our world. They may suggest embarrassing reviews of our understanding and expectations of how the human world operates. And they may help us to know better what not to say. Historical literacy involves dealing with the past as an interconnected temporal ecology that can support an indefinite range of stories, not only something that we use to tell the history that better adapts to our immediate objectives and wishes. Like other public manners of knowledge, history is a metacognitive tradition that people have struggled hard for a long time to develop and to be able to practice. It is a fragile achievement to be handled respectfully and carefully in the schools.

historical literacy; History Education; teaching of history

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