If scientists designed the history curriculum…

We’ve been here before. Such was the fever to promote science at the expense of everything else in the mid nineteenth century that Thomas Wyse told an audience at the Waterford Literary and Scientific Society in 1833 to ‘banish all modem politics and controversial theology from their arenas’ and look to ‘Priestley, Brougham, and Watt as the true Promethei of our present race – the true architects of our civilisation’.

So it is again, with Ruairí Quinn taking up Wyse’s role, plotting to squeeze together history and geography at school to make room for science. To paraphrase Gerard Collins begging Albert on national TV: please Ruairí, for the good of science, don’t do it, don’t bust the curriculum. I can’t imagine Ruairí thinks this is a good idea, but he probably thinks it will impress our global neighbours, showing that We Take Science Seriously.

What skills does history bring to the curriculum? Spending most of my spare time pretending I am an historian, I have found that history requires me to research, evaluate, interpret evidence, cross reference, criticise, etc etc. These are some pretty good learning outcome verbs that can translate into any discipline – especially science, In fact, one might argue that it is these skills gained in history which develop research and problem-solving skills more than in science. What’s more, history offers the curriculum something science sorely lacks: the requirement to form a written argument.

And can you imagine if we gave the masochists who designed the science curriculum at school—and I reserve special rage for those Satanic ritualists who designed the Leaving Cert chemistry curriculum—even more time? Lots more rules to learn off, lots more model answers to practice. Requiring more time to teach science is like making new laws to add on to existing ones. Resources are required, not more lack of resources. A rookie journalist hoping to make a break would do well to go investigate the NCCA, the people ultimately charged with what defines our “knowledge economy”. These few people know what they are talking about, have some great ideas, based on solid research, but are held hostage by a lack of resources and an elite mafia who don’t want to let go of “their” curriculum.

To illustrate this, an interesting drinking game this Good Friday would be imagine how the masters of our current science curriculum might design a history curriculum. We like to build up on the basics in science, so obviously you’d start in the neolithic era, moving each year until reaching the entire early modern to modern era in 6th year. Bonus shots go for squeezing together more than one topic in a lesson plan—the Lockout and the Nazis perhaps—or requiring completely irrelevant recall of facts, why not learn off the Annals? They’d have a field day. Jokes aside, you can’t give these people more time on the curriculum.

If anything good for history is coming out of this, it is that there is a well-known academic coming out in support of his discipline at school. Well done Diarmaid Ferriter, you are now forgiven for The Tenements. In science, our big-wig academics are too busy telling the media, the grant agencies, and probably themselves how amazing their research is and how it should receive more money. I wish they would take a look school-wards occasionally so that the students who will eventually come to complete their research have the curriculum they deserve.

One thought on “If scientists designed the history curriculum…

  1. What history needs is more advocates who are not Historians, when I read the article the Mandy Rice Davis* quote “Well, he would, wouldn’t he” popped into my mind. We need more ordinary people to speak
    out but I am surprised with the laissez faire attitude of some history teachers.


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