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History in basic education

( IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD, SOCIAL STUDies textbooks are hounded by


questions regarding content, learning goals and methods— and politics. For example,
Japanese textbook writers have long had to grapple with their country’s role in WorldWar
II.
A worried Thai parent laments that her daughter “ feels Burma is fierce and heartless,
Cambodia cannot be trusted, and Laos is inferior to Thailand— because the history
textbooks teach her so.” More recently, the government of Israel announced that Israeli
textbooks for Arab school children would no longer contain the sentence that says Arabs
describe the period of the birth of Israel as al-Nakba (“ the catastrophe”). The Jews call it
the “ IndependenceWar.”
In our own case, Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, a fellow historian and head of the National
Historical Institute, asks if there is room in our textbooks for such historical controversies
as the execution of Andres Bonifacio.
The debate remains unresolved. Nevertheless, Social Studies textbooks tend to suffer
from what David Tyack calls “ terminal blandness.” M. Schudson asks, for example: “ Why
are history textbooks so controversial when they are, by most accounts, so dull?”
How to be both factually accurate and interesting thus seems to be a monumental
challenge that confronts social studies textbooks.
Several conditions in the Philippine public basic educational system inflate the
reliance on social studies textbooks: the dearth of school libraries and poor access to other
sources of information; uneven academic training of basic education teachers in
disciplinal knowledge; and very heavy teaching load.
Prompted by the heightened necessity for excellent textbooks, we decided to focus our
review on the public school social studies textbooks and the 2002 curriculum on which
the current Department of Education-approved textbooks are based.
This paper proceeds from the historical dictum that “ facts, while vitally important,
should serve as the beginning of historical instruction, not its conclusion.”
Facts are the indispensable raw material that historians use to interpret the past with
respect to such immediate questions as causality, agency and effect; and larger (
philosophical) questions of claims to truth, the directionality of human events, notions of
time and space, and so on. But even before historians employ facts, they evaluate the
sources, both epistemologically ( e. g., in terms of new evidence or novel interpretations
or perspectives) and methodologically ( with regard to the source’s authenticity and, more
frequently, the credibility and reliability of the evidence offered).
Why is History taught in school? History serves numerous purposes, from the
development of citizens as meaningful members of a larger community with which they
identify, to the training of themind in critical thinking and sound judgment. A good citizen
is one who, as our elementary textbooks teach our children, obeys traffic lights. A good
citizen, too, is one who is able to weigh options and make decisions, including whom to
believe and trust, based not on feelings of loyalty or partisan allegiance but on
demonstrable grounds. The practical applications of historical skills abound in everyday
life, from writing reports and accepting ( or rejecting) them as trustworthy, to tracing
household payments over time and track- ing prices of goods at the market. Yet History
as a subject is not highly valued and is best remembered as the one that requires a good
memory.
In basic education, History tends to get confused with Civics. But while Civics focuses
on norms and values, History traces what happened in the past. Whereas Civics focuses
on government ( elements of the state, various political concepts) and citizenship ( rights
and responsibilities), History has a much broader scope, which is situated temporally
rather than exclusively in the present. But in our public schools, History as a subject is
taught in only one year at the elementary level ( fifth grade), and shares the Makabayan
subject ( Grades 1 to 3) with Civics and Culture, Geography, Music and the Arts, Health
Education, Home Economics, and Good Manners and Proper Conduct. In upper
elementary school ( Grades 4 to 6), History shares the Hekasi subject with Geography and
Civics.
High school Social Studies, in contrast, focuses on History: Philippine History in first
year, Asian History in second, and World History in third year. In the final year the subject
is Economics. Since most Filipino children do not proceed to high school ( many do not
even reach Grade 5, where History is first taught), our children grow up and take their
place in society with little inkling of our past.
( THE TWIN DANGERS OF ANY SOCIAL STUDIES textbook—to stereotype and to
mythologize—are present in the elementary school learning materials. Since the civics
subjects are not grounded in our history, there is no parameter or safeguard against these
dangers. Rather than learn to deploy facts in order to arrive at a reasoned interpretation
of our past and our collective identity, our children are taught, simply, to memorize what
the textbooks say we Filipinos are.
Overall, with regard to curricular and textbook content, we find that:
1. There is an overwhelming emphasis on civics at the expense of Philippine history.
2. The civic values tend to essentialize the Filipino as stereotype and myth.
3. Lodged in some of these values are biases that run contrary to the avowed curricular
goal of teaching Filipino pride, identity and membership in the community, nation and
world.
4. Philippine history, where taught, is approached from a limited, at times biased
perspective that has the effect of sanitizing our past or presenting an incomplete picture
of it. As for the competencies, we find that: 1. Training in critical and interpretive thinking
is inadequate, while knowledge and retention of values and facts are highlighted.
2. Competencies particular to historical thinking, such as gathering information so as
to form an opinion as well as the use and analysis of primary sources are not developed.
3. Training in writing is woefully inadequate since the assessment exercises lean
toward objective, multiple type tests at the elementary level, and enumeration in first year
high school.
In light of these findings, we recommend the following:
1. ApplyHistory as the core subject of Social Studies and incorporate civics, geography
and other social science concepts. History applies critical thinking and writing
competencies that enable one to exercise citizenship intelligently and meaningfully.
2. Devise history-based content standards and historical competence standards. The
current curriculum combines content and competencies in such broad, general
statements that it fails to address the demands of each. To give both content and
competencies the attention each deserves [we should first] separate content from
competencies and work out each in keeping with the accepted standards of the discipline.
[We then juxtapose] content and competencies and pinpoint the specific historical
competencies to be developed when discussing a historical period or topic.
3. Chart the content and competence standards in the curriculum consistently from
first grade to fourth year high school. At present learning competencies at the elementary
and secondary levels are formulated separately. Higher year levels cannot build upon the
preceding years because of this disjointed approach to curriculum making. We also
recommend that learning outcomes be described in terms of standards of achievement in
place of the generally affective measures currently in use (e.g., “pride in …,” “value of …,”
“recognition of…”).
4. Simplify the textbook review procedure and create a two-tiered review process to
weed out textbooks with grave errors and biases, and then to check compliance with
content and competence standards.
On thewhole the education department’s screening instruments are geared more
toward compliance with the prescribed competencies (which we question) and with
pedagogical concerns than with content and cognitive competencies. The things that
count to us—critical thinking, major errors and biases—count little to education officials.
5. “Open up” the textbook with primary sources. Classroom learning can be
strengthened by using excerpts of primary sources to correct inaccurate data in the
textbook, provide more information, offer a different point of view or another account of
an event.
6. Strengthen the disciplinal content of teacher training while maintaining the
importance of pedagogical knowledge. The choice is not one or the other, but that teachers
are trained in both.
7. Hold regular discussions among academic historians, Department of Education
curriculum specialists, and elementary and high school Social Studies teachers in order
to improve the curriculum and set standards. Far from being a single thread of learning,
the education pipeline at present suffers from major disjunctions that result in poor
preparation for the next level of learning. The conversations about history that we propose
can help address these gaps.
Making a case for History in basic education is not just the concern of historians. It
ought to be yours, too. Historians do not own the past. We all do. This vast wealth is ours
to take, not to devalue or to dismiss as impracticable. To partake of this wealth, we must
train our young to question, to think critically and arrive at reasoned conclusions, and not
be swayed by misleading premises or false promises, or biases that have no place in any
community. The school system is the training ground of our nation’s children and our
history makes an excellent teacher.