Preface — by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord (Euroclio)

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Joke van der Leeuw-Roord
Pres­i­dent {EUROCLIO}, The Hague
What does his­to­ry mean to young peo­ple? 32,000 teenagers of four­teen and fif­teen in 26/27 Coun­tries in Europe, includ­ing Israel and Pales­tine, have been asked to reflect on this ques­tion. In a lengthy ques­tion­naire they were exam­ined about issues such as their inter­est in his­tor­i­cal top­ics and approach­es, their asso­ci­a­tions and atti­tudes to and their under­stand­ing of his­to­ry, about ways of teach­ing, con­cepts, and expec­ta­tions for the future. The YOUTH and HISTORY project will be a rich source of data for many peo­ple relat­ed to the fields of ped­a­gogy and social sci­ences. Par­tic­u­lar­ly for his­to­ry edu­ca­tors, the results of this research project are very sig­nif­i­cant, and ask for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tions. Almost every­where in Europe media, politi­cians, and his­to­ry edu­ca­tors are dis­cussing how his­to­ry ought to be seen, what should be taught dur­ing the his­to­ry class­es and how. Not only in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, where his­to­ry edu­ca­tion had to be altered after the changes in 1989 ‑1991, but also in the oth­er parts of Europe, these issues are wide­ly debat­ed. And this is not only a Euro­pean phe­nom­e­non, for exam­ple in the Unit­ed States and South Africa, these ques­tions have also lead to heat­ed polemics. It often aston­ish­es me, how eas­i­ly peo­ple talk about the achieve­ments of his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. It seems that we hard­ly ques­tion what is real­ly hap­pen­ing in his­to­ry class­es. Before the YOUTH and HISTORY project was start­ed, very lit­tle data were avail­able about the results of his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. We eas­i­ly and hap­pi­ly assumed that the, often ambi­tious­ly for­mu­lat­ed, aims and objec­tives in the cur­ric­u­la were actu­al­ly reached by the pupils. With this major inves­ti­ga­tion, his­to­ry edu­ca­tors have rel­e­vant data about the results of their work. His­to­ry cur­ric­u­la dis­play remark­able ambi­tions. The aims and objec­tives of many cur­ric­u­la usu­al­ly show lit­tle doubt about the achieve­ments of his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. Pupils sim­ply receive knowl­edge of the past, under­stand­ing of the present and ori­en­ta­tion for the future. In the ques­tion­naire, young peo­ple in Europe were asked if they con­sid­er these objec­tives as being impor­tant for his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. Most of them agree on the knowl­edge of the past being impor­tant, although in Slove­nia and Den­mark they are not too sure about that. They acknowl­edge the impor­tance of under­stand­ing the present, although pupils in Greece do not real­ly go for this objec­tive. Gen­er­al­ly they ascribe less weight to gain­ing ori­en­ta­tion for the future, but there are impor­tant dif­fer­ences between indi­vid­ual coun­tries. For exam­ple, young peo­ple in Lithua­nia, Rus­sia and Turkey con­sid­er this an impor­tant objec­tive too. Mod­ern cur­ric­u­la assume that his­to­ry edu­ca­tion devel­ops demo­c­ra­t­ic skills and atti­tudes in young peo­ple. Accord­ing to the answers to the ques­tion­naire, it is far from cer­tain that his­to­ry edu­ca­tors have been able to arouse the inter­est of young peo­ple for top­ics like pol­i­tics and the devel­op­ment of democ­ra­cy. Although most of the teenagers believe that in forty years Europe will be demo­c­ra­t­ic, they show lit­tle inter­est in learn­ing about democ­ra­cy, except for the pupils in Greece and Turkey. The results of this part of the inves­ti­ga­tion urge his­to­ry edu­ca­tors to find ways to engage their pupils’ inter­est in those top­ics, which are vital for the rein­force­ment of demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties. Accord­ing to many cur­ric­u­la, his­to­ry edu­ca­tion gen­er­ates his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, with­out actu­al­ly defin­ing this con­cept. In this sur­vey the research tried to find out what his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness means to young peo­ple and how it is devel­oped. To pre­pare the sub­ject for the Twen­ty First Cen­tu­ry, his­to­ry edu­ca­tion is being inno­vat­ed all over Europe. Not only the ’nar­rat­ing teacher’, but also writ­ten and pic­to­r­i­al sources, video and tapes, and activ­i­ties like role-play, projects and vis­its to muse­ums should be part of his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. The ques­tion is, whether the pupils have already noticed these devel­op­ments. In France, Spain, Eng­land, Scot­land and Por­tu­gal, work­ing with sources is real­ly a rec­og­nized method, but the real­i­sa­tion of this approach is far from gen­er­al­ly accept­ed in the oth­er coun­tries. The use of video and tapes and the appli­ca­tion of alter­na­tive activ­i­ties like roll-play, projects and vis­its to muse­ums seem not to be imple­ment­ed at all through­out the whole of Europe. Do the pupils enjoy his­to­ry edu­ca­tion? His­to­ry teach­ers are often con­vinced that his­to­ry is a source of adven­ture and excite­ment. The results demon­strate quite some dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among the coun­tries (in Rus­sia, for exam­ple, pupils do con­firm this asser­tion). But most pupils do not real­ly agree that his­to­ry is a source of adven­ture. The atti­tude of young peo­ple towards their teach­ers is remark­ably pos­i­tive. Most of the teenagers trust the cor­rect­ness of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the past by teach­ers, and even enjoy it. The Euro­pean pupils have giv­en their teach­ers good marks for their per­for­mance. The results of this inves­ti­ga­tion more or less con­tra­dicts the pic­ture that ’nar­rat­ing teach­ers’ are only bor­ing. This con­clu­sion should also be used in fur­ther debates about edu­ca­tion­al inno­va­tion. I hope that the results of this impor­tant project will con­vince deci­sion mak­ers and his­to­ry edu­ca­tors to use the out­come of the sur­vey. They should also invite researchers to draw addi­tion­al con­clu­sions and open fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tions to spec­i­fy cer­tain answers. There is a risk that the results will only be used for sci­en­tif­ic pur­pos­es. To pre­vent this it will be nec­es­sary to rec­om­mend the con­clu­sions of the project for future his­to­ry and civics cur­ricu­lum- and text­book devel­op­ment and for teach­ing prac­tise in his­to­ry lessons. {EUROCLIO} is very grate­ful that the organ­is­ers have been so per­sis­tent in work­ing on this project. We know that it has been far from easy to bring togeth­er researchers from so many coun­tries and to find finan­cial resources for this enter­prise. But their faith in a pos­i­tive out­come kept the project going, and now offers a very rich source of infor­ma­tion about his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­scious­ness among young peo­ple. I can but con­grat­u­late the organ­is­ers and the nation­al coor­di­na­tors whole-heart­ed­ly to this mon­u­men­tal result and advise every per­son inter­est­ed in his­to­ry teach­ing to study this book with great attention.

The Hague, in Decem­ber 1996

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