SOMETHING IS MISSING from the debates about teaching history in Australian schools, even though their explosive, raw and at times distinctly personal quality must surely be a good sign. If we are not prepared to shout and bang on tables over history and kids, then surely we are, in those all-knowing words of Tom Waits, ‘pulling on trouble’s braids’.
Yet just like school history curriculum itself, the debates about teaching history have become tedious. On one hand, we have those who believe in history as a tool of nation building and civic pride and who decry agenda-driven, ideologically coloured, dogmatic history, infected, in their minds, with a singular contempt for the facts. The counter-argument, of course (the one I resent having to subscribe to because it seems so bleedingly obvious) is that teaching history should essentially be about developing historical consciousness. It should be about giving kids the all-important skills of analysis, critical reflection and tolerance for difference – the skills they need, first and foremost, to live good and engaged lives in the present. Untill recently I had nothing to add to these debates, except that nagging feeling that something central was consistently overlooked in them. Then, in October 2008, while on a trip in Russia, I met with several historians
working at Memorial, the international historical and human rights society with active branches right across the country. It was at that point, far away from the Australian goldfields, that I had my very own
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