Re-opening the discussion (Part 3 of 5)

Alterego said…

Luís,

To see if I understood your comments, I’ll replace “Philosophy” with “History” and see what happens.

So, let us say that I was commemmorating a policy that made History mandatory in High School, on the grounds that “History is necessary for actively exercising one’s citizenship”.

Then you could ask:

1) Is History necessary, or knowledge of History?

2) All of History, or just a part? And if only a part, which?

3) If History is this necessary for exercising one’s citizenship, how can one explain cases of people like myself, who have studied History for a long time, and don’t feel that that helped with our exercise of citizenship one bit (to the point of our not even knowing what this is supposed to mean)?

4) And given 3), why get optimistic with a possible spreading of the teaching of History?

Let’s tackle these one at a time.

1) Is History necessary, or knowledge of History?
Both, I believe. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg story. Withouth History there is no knowledge of History, but without knowledge of History there is no History.

Furthermore: without a commitment to the teaching of History, History does not get renewed. It is cool to think that one makes History as one learns History.

2) All of History, or just a part? And if only a part, which?
I think all of History contributes, but that it is hard, if not impossible, for a person to master the whole field of History (or Math, or Physics), especially in High School.

So I think that every little bit you learn helps a bit. Only had Brazilian History? Good to know a bit of Brazilian History. Managed to learn a bit of Brazil and a bit of Americas too? Even better. Only managed to cover Ancient and Medieval History? That’s very good, much better than nothing.

3) If History is this necessary for exercising one’s citizenship, how can one explain cases of people like myself, who have studied History for a long time, and don’t feel that that helped with our exercise of citizenship one bit (to the point of our not even knowing what this is supposed to mean)?

Here the distinction between “necessary” and “sufficient” is really helpful.

I find it unlikely that a person could contribute to History without having a tiniest bit of historical awareness.

On the other hand, profound knowledge of the entire field of History is not enough for one to make History. It all depends on how one makes use of one’s theoretical knowledge to help with one’s practice. Therefore knowledge of History is necessary, but not sufficient.

Actually, it’s not even that necessary, for many people made History without much formal knowledge of History. But then informal knowledge kicks in, the knowledge that comes from the environment, from the oral culture of a region, from talking to people, from observing reality. And in this point, a bus ride teaches as much if not more than the classroom.

Therefore: knowledge of History is not sufficient and perhaps not even necessary to make History. But it helps a lot.

3b) What do you mean “knowledge of History helps in the active exercise of one’s citizenship,” if I don’t even know what “active exercise of one’s citizenship” means?

Look, to answer this question we need to use some philosophy. But we’re not talking about philosophy here (actually, who in this country knows at least the basics of philosophy?). So there’s nothing I can do. Let’s go back to History.

4) And given that not everyone who studies History makes it into History (or actively exercises their citizenship), why get optimistic with a possible spreading of the teaching of History?

True, the teaching of History pure and simple does not put anyone’s name in History. It doesn’t even necessarily make one learn History, let alone “actively exercise their citizenship.”

But the presence of the discipline at school makes this knowledge more accessible. In the very least the students get to know of the existence of this field of studies.

Furthermore, the inclusion of History in the High School Curriculum may not only help increase the number of people who will later choose to major in Philosophy, but it also expands the job market for those who have already made this choice. It adds some value to the profession, if you know what I mean. It puts it on the map.

Of course the mere inclusion of History in the curriculum does not guarantee that the teaching given will be of any good quality. But the poor quality of Foreign Language lessons or Arts lessons does not make these subjects useless. It also does not mean that high school students do not have the capacity to master these subjects.

It is more a question of better equipping the teachers. Teachers have a lot to learn too. In a way, this change forces an investment in the professional development of teaching skills in History graduates. And I find all of this very good.

End of part 3.

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2 responses to “Re-opening the discussion (Part 3 of 5)

  1. I have a question please. What exactly does “knowledge of history” mean ? Does it simply mean the knowledge of events or does it mean the processes at work (both political and social) that caused or enabled such events ?

  2. For the active exercise of one’s citizenship, I think we need go back to the basics. While I agree that children and young people should be exposed to as many disciplines as they can while at school, I think what we lack is a basic idea of how our country works. To become a canadian citizen I had to study a booklet that tought me all my rights and duties as a citizen, how the political process works, elections, etc. And, most importantly, it explained what the politicians are there for – basically, they works for us – and how do we get hold of them if have any problems. I believe very few people in Brazil has any idea that the money the government squander in corruption is their OWN money and that when congressmen or city councillor does something for them, they are not owed life-long gratitude, they are doing THEIR JOB.

    But of course, since the people who run the country got the job precisely because people dont really know how to make them accountable, they will be the least likely to teach them practical things like that.

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