Should history be removed from the curriculum as a subject? A columnist with the Daily Telegraph, last Saturday, explained the use of studying history. It teaches us to think and do research. Since he admitted to being a historian himself, it wasn’t much of an argument in favour of studying history. We can better learn to think with subjects like critical thinking and even more so, philosophy. But teaching kids to think is dangerous. In Ireland it just doesn’t happen and in Britain it only happens at the end when the monsters are about to leave school. And history as taught in schools is of no use in learning the art of research. If we are to keep history on the curriculum there have to be better reasons. In my letter to The Irish Catholic I give a few different reasons.
Dear Editor, the government is toying with the idea of downgrading history and religion in schools, the subjects which reveal and help us transcend our humanity respectively.
Having read a fascinating story this morning in the Daily Telegraph (March 8th) about another Mayo man, John Bingham, “one of the most effective intelligence officers during the Second World War,” and the man behind the character George Smiley in John le Carre’s spy novels, it’s a pity the people in Dublin who decide the curriculum don’t see the relevance of local history.
I am at least thankful another neglected area of history, the history of science, is often addressed in The Irish Catholic by Prof Willie Reville, e.g. his recent informative article on Copernicus (Feb. 20th). There’s a value in Prof Reville’s contributions as he shows where morality must inform science for progress with a conscience.
Also, church history, not taught as a subject, is usually caricatured and conveniently presented in a piecemeal and biased way, especially regarding science and progress. Perhaps I can recommend for your readers an enjoyable book on the Church’s contribution to the origins of science with a well researched and a very different version of the Galileo story?; the award-winning book God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (appropriately called The Genesis of Science in the U.S.) by the English convert to Catholicism, James Hannam.
Studying history does not stop us from repeating the same mistakes, as it is often presumed, but by learning that historians have presented their own version, their own ignorance, their own biases, it stops the rest of us from being stupid.
Before teaching history, why not teach philosophy of history?, explore what is history? Is there a meaning to history?
In conclusion, let me quote a famous historian from the rebel county of Cork. After reading his version of history you might see why we need more reputable versions. The historian is a tour guide on a tourist bus around Cork city.
Guide: This is where we defeated the English.
(A few miles further on): Guide: We defeated the Brits here as well.
(Further up the road): We gave the Brits a good thrashing here, right at this spot.
(Crossing a famous bridge): We defeated the English in a battle right on this bridge.
(Finally, a retired British army officer who happened to be on the tour, objects): Surely we won some battle?
Guide: Not on this f—–g bus!
References: Prof Willie Reville’s article on Copernicus; http://www.irishcatholic.ie/article/scientific-opposition-Copernicus