Thursday, October 29, 2015

How best to teach History: The case of Malaysia

    

 by Azly Rahman

There is a nagging debate emerging: either to teach Social Contract or Malaysian History. I feel that the framers of the debate are getting confused and asking the wrong questions about how to teach History. Here are my thoughts on what actually History teachers need to do:

Those who think that we cannot question historical facts, have not learned the philosophy of History nor been introduced to more exciting strategies of creative and critical thinking and also futuristic thinking.

Teachers and university educators who preach ‘official histories’ need to be introduced to the varieties of teaching strategies of teaching History as well as the spectrum of views on what History, from the perspective of history and class and cognitive consciousness, can be.

On Civic lessons and healthy democracy

A skilled teacher/university educator will humbly entertain any question on History. The more we question ‘historical facts’ the sharper our thinking will become. The more we question the origin of things, the better we will play our role as creators of history as well as masters of our own destiny. The more we delve into the most challenging questions in History, the healthier our sense of well-beingness of own democracy will be.

A healthy democracy is one that teaches each and every child what ‘politics’ mean. In our History class, it teaches the meaning of justice and fairness and of the use and abuse of power. It teaches the process and possibilities of democracy and not of democracy as a product created by the elite few that come from dynasties. It teaches them how to become active and reflective citizens.

A good History lesson does not teach children to memorise facts that are suspect, or historical facts that are oxymoronic, or of dead people and dead places and who controls this or that territory, or which kingdom gets overthrown by this or that usurping prince.

It teaches them to question those facts and to put those individuals on trial. It puts Christopher Columbus on trial for murdering thousands of Arawak Indians in the process of being canonised as the ‘founder’ of America.
A good History lesson does not teach the idea that Parameswara, who fled his kingdom in an unsuccessful coup attempt in Palembang, and next killed Temagi in the then Singapura, and next hunted down by the Thais, and next landed under a Malacca tree - is a hero. It teaches children to be vigilant against rulers who are murderers and plunderers and slave-owners.

The story of a glorified Parameswara as a founder is a bad history lesson - how can we still glorify a ‘historical fact’ of an usurper and a murderer as a founder of Malacca? It is like glorifying the history of Manhattan island, New York City - worth 24 dollars in real estate value and became a haven for smugglers, pirates, and bootleggers.

A good history lesson makes history that come alive by allowing children to play the role of makers of their own history. It allows children to put Parameswara on trial for murder and revolt. It teaches children to question the founding of Malacca and the intention of the author/court-propagandist Tun Sri Lanang who wrote it.

A good History class is one that teaches children to revise, debunk and deconstruct history as a tool of mass deception. It challenges students to look at history in radically different ways to make history come alive, subjective, and ever revisionist.

The people’s history of the land

A good History class teaches children the people’s history of the land - of those who died building monuments, istanas, factories, bridges, tunnels, or in wars between the greedy sultans and traditional rulers of the region. These are the unsung heroes of history that our children ought to be taught to honour.

A good History lesson teaches children not other people’s history but of their own - beginning with one’s personal history, next to one’s family, and one’s people - all within the framework of history that does not alienate and marginalise human beings.

The way we still teach History and Social Studies reflects why we Malaysians cannot yet evolve from the consciousness of ‘waiting for the messiahs/saviors/matrieya/al-Mahdi/ Perdana Menteri’ to the consciousness of understanding the Self as the true ruler of the Kingdom within.

Already our land is littered with names after names of individuals who wield dynastic power since modern time immemorial - names of those deserving or not. These names are inscribed on road signs, billboards, lorongs in kampongs, landmark buildings, corporate towers, stadiums, schools, higher education institutions, and deep in the consciousness of the people through media control of the human mind.

We become colonised by these names, signs, and symbols. The mind becomes paralysed being colonised by these concepts, signs, and symbolism that govern the daily economic, social, and political existence of the people that are being made objects of other people’s history.

Let us teach our children that they too can become the next prime minister. Teach our teachers how to creatively teach Civics and History and to acquire the art and science of Revisionist Civics, Counter-factual History, and Radical and Transformational Leadership.

Our political conversations will then be more meaningful and our road to democracy will be more enjoyable.

“Man makes history,” said the great historian EH Carr. It is the “people’s history” as American historian Howard Zinn would say, that ought to be honoured.

‘Questioning History’

History is that field of study/enterprise so powerful a mental glue that can integrate or disintegrate a nation. It becomes crucial what perspective of history we use in crafting its ancillary called Citizenship Studies/Kenegaraan. We must begin to reconceptualise the way we approach teaching it.
Instead of asking the question whether to teach Social Contract or Malaysian History, it is best to consider the following questions we may begin to ask ourselves concerning history:

Whose history is of most supreme?
What kind of history is most meaningful to the individual?
Who writes history?
From what point of view is history written?
When do history textbooks get revised?
How does history contribute to lethal ethnocentrism?
Under what circumstances do historians lie?
Is there such a thing as ‘historical facts’ when historical accounts themselves are biases reconstructed based on selective memory and written by those who own the pen?
Who gets marginalised in the process of historicising?
When will ‘history’ become ‘her-story’?
What images of women, immigrants, minorities, natives are presented in history textbooks?
In a multiracial and pluralistic society, how is a national history textbook written?
Must history continue to glorify individuals, despots, autocrats, dictators, symbols of slavery and oppression, buildings, etc?
How do we teach children to write their own histories so that they may become makers of history instead of being fed with other people’s history?
How do we make history lessons come alive?

These are my thoughts and my questions on how to teach History. Let us even re-evaluate the lies our History teachers told us and continue to tell us.

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