The big issues

24th March 2000 at 00:00
ISSUES IN HISTORY TEACHING. Edited by James Arthur and Robert Phillips. Routledge pound;15.99.

Given the speed of educational change these days, any book entitled Issues in... must be up to date in its coverage: today's hot issue is tomorrow's irrelevance. Getting this right in a useful and readable book is down to the editors. In this case James Arthur and Robert Phillips have done well in listing the issues on history teachers' agendas and then finding people to write about them in a stimulating way.

However, issues which are high on one person's agenda may not figure at all on another's. It is hard to think of anyone who would read this book from cover to cover; on the other hand, it is hard to think of anyone - teacher, student, mentor, teacher-trainer - who would not stop and read a few chapters to move them on in their current concerns.

My personal selection started with Martin Hunt's essay on teaching "Historical significance," (key element 2d, now 2e). In a situation where numbers taking history at GCSE have dropped by nearly 30,000 in four years, history teachers need to be able to present answers to the pupil question "Why are we doing this?" and they had better be good. QCA could think of some possible answers in its forthcoming review of GCSE criteria.

In this book, Hunt offers interesting ways of evaluating significance as well as practical strategies for placing the issue of significance in front of pupils in relation to the Great Fire, the Second World War and the slave trade. Christine Counsell gives us a fascinating analysis of the "distracting dichotomy" of skills and knowledge, with quotations from her own pupils.

Hilary Cooper and Ruth Watts provide startling European perspectives on history teaching, with some splendidly informative web addresses. Ian Davies says what needs to be said about the state of citizenship and history teaching.

But it was Terry Haydn's piece on ICT in the history classroom which really gripped me. He takes us through what has happened, what has not happened and why not. He finds plenty of space for where we could go next: the future is interactive, as the BBC firmly believes. My Radio Times tells me that "history is the new rock'n'roll". And the classroom PC is the new jukebox?

Chris Culpin is director of the Schools History Project

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