Humane approach to humanities

9th May 2003 at 01:00
ACHIEVING QTS: Teaching Humanities in Primary Schools. By Pat Hoodless, Sue Bermingham, Elaine McCreery, Paul Bowen. Learning Matters pound;15

The humanities - history, geography and RE - are struggling against the forces of educational bureaucracy. A victory over encroaching acronyms is won here; a defeat over space on the timetable is conceded there. The authors of this book provide course material for trainees. They do their best to side with those who will soon be teaching the subjects, but the strain of conflict sometimes shows.

To say that history "provides contextual material for the development and extension of key humanities concepts" or that written historical sources "encompass all the text genres required to teach the literacy hour" is to speak truthfully but uninvitingly. The presence in the book of numerous planning proformas, even though they are completed in genuinely helpful detail, is another reminder that enthusiasm for a topic can be stifled by the mechanisms used to convey it.

Fortunately, there are plenty of pages where the real world of school comes alive. Perhaps the most helpful of all are the frequent sections headed Classroom Story, where student teachers' experiences are vividly recounted.

We hear about Linda who used the old building in which she worked as the stimulus for getting Year 2 children to explore the idea of the past; her probing of log books, old furniture and the schoolkeeper's memories are given with enticing precision. These sections are complemented by a "practical task" in which readers are invited to provide their own parallel examples.

There is sensible coverage of assessment and self-assessment, organising and making the most of educational visits, and of sensitive issues such as the different views of womanhood and divinity found in children's varying religious traditions. It's when we read that history is "a vehicle for developing the affective domain" that doubts return. The abstract language indicates a troubling unease about the purpose of studying history at all.

Isn't what used to be called Finding Out About The Greeks worth doing for its own sake?

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