Little Historians

I see that the History Teachers Association of Australia has raised questions about the primary school component of the proposed national history curriculum.  Good on them.  As a member of the Heidelberg Historical Society, I had a brief peek at the consultation draft which recommended that local history be introduced at primary school level.   I had no problem with the idea of arousing children’s curiosity about the street, suburb and town in which they live, but the “core components of historical understanding”  seem to be a trifle…um….optimistic?

How does this sound for an 8-12 year old?

“examine and critically assess the value of available primary and secondary sources, study human motivation, develop an understanding of viewpoints held by the people of the past, and recognize causal relationships between events and draw conclusions about their historical investigations”.

Have the stages of conceptual development suddenly been thrown out the window?? What happened to my good friend Piaget??  The last time I spoke to an 8-12 year old (which, admittedly, has not occurred recently), I was not particularly struck with their insight into human motivation.

And to be honest, I’m still grappling with these core components with historical understanding today.  Perhaps I need to find a 9 year old to show me how.

4 responses to “Little Historians

  1. Pfft, I’m wondering if this component is being deliberately set up to fail as not many kids will cope with that!

  2. What rubbish! I do agree that kids should understand that the study of history involves a bit more than ‘what happened’, and it’s good to start with the local, but there is no way a primary school child can ‘critically evaluate’ primary and secondary sources. Hell, most adults can’t do that well!

  3. As I often do, I’ll put the opposing view. This statement is written of course in bureaucratese and that makes it easy to criticise BUT I don’t see any problem with its aspiration. Perhaps the reason that most adults can’t critically evaluate primary and secondary sources is because they weren’t taught? I believe these concepts can start to be taught in primary school – albeit starting simply and with something immediate and relevant that they can engage with NOT explorers and the gold rush!

  4. One of the things that surprised me about this list of competencies is there didn’t seem to be a progression in them. The next stage talked about children developing a narrative (story) about the events they had studied, which I thought would have been something that younger children could do, and yet these children are being asked to “understand”. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on the concept of “time”, which I think is a developmental attribute that could be described in competency and educational terms (‘olden days’ vs yesterday vs 1000 years ago). I think that children of this age could consider how they themselves would feel in a situation, but I don’t know that they could very well explain the motivations of others.
    These seem to me to be such overarching skills, that even the most erudite, practised historian works on every day. I don’t think that they lend themselves to development and emergent skills at all.

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