What we want and what will be done with it.
From the public: photos of representations or non-representations of the past that fascinate, infuriate or just simply amuse. Posted here or on twitter to @missinghist with the hashtag #missinghistories.
From educators: teaching resources designed for use in addressing representations or non-representations of the past, or linking local points of interest to the formal curriculum. Posted here or on twitter to @missinghist with the hashtag #missinghistories.
From institutions: links to the resources designed already for use with exhibitions and sites, with as much detail about the exhibition or site as possible. Posted here or on twitter to @missinghist with the hashtag #missinghistories.
Members of the public can post things that interest them and then teachers can use the information to create resources. Teachers, however, can post resources from the beginning and other institutions and organisations can link to the project as appropriate. Posts will be expected to uphold the democratic and egalitarian values that inspire the project. The basic principle will be to accept what is posted but there will be some monitoring and a panel to adjudicate disputes. (missinghistories pdf)
What next and why? Aims and objectives
Phase 1: Remapping and reconfiguring the local
What: a website with an interactive map of London collating examples of the problematic representation or non-representation of the past as posted by the public.
What has this got to do with us? Most teachers have, at some point, heard this question and all understand the importance of establishing early on why a topic is important and interesting. Linking the study of the past to the lived experience of students in the present is an important tool in this. Site and museum visits which allow students to make cognitive and emotional links with and concerning the past experientially are also a popular means of doing so. The map would offer a way to see that ‘it happened there’ (Webber, 2000) that links the two. By using images and words from users it would make clear that participation in remembering and discussing the past should be democratic and membership of the community something that should simply be assumed.
Phase 2: Resources for sharing
What: a bank of resources aimed at Further Education teachers and their students, based on the remapping created by users and linking wherever possible to other existing sources of information and lesson support.
History teachers are required (like all teachers) to be ‘dual professionals’. This means that we have to combine expertise in what we teach and how we teach it, ‘committed to maintaining and developing their expertise in both parts of their role to ensure the best outcomes for their learners’ (ETF, 2014: 8). For all teachers, this requires continuing professional development (CPD), defined by Goodall et al. (2005: 6, quoting Day, 1999) as ‘all natural learning experiences and those conscious and planned activities which are intended to be of direct or indirect benefit to the individual, group or school, which constitute, through these, to the quality of education in the classroom.’
For the history teacher, even small adjustments in the curriculum (let alone the wholesale changes coming this autumn) can mean huge increases in workload as they are required to take on period and area studies they are unfamiliar with. This is made worse by the way in which history graduates are educated: no historical education above KS3 really even claims to offer a longitudinal or canonical understanding of the past, focusing instead on specialised units which although they may be spread over a long duration as a whole do not have to offer a coherent narrative or analysis. As a retired history teacher told me rather grumpily before my PGCE: ‘The problem is, no one studies history. You have to look at part of it.’ And looking at one part entails ignoring others. I have a doctorate in Holocaust Studies but this did not help when required to teach eighteenth-century British and Caribbean history: my pride in rising to meet this challenge is mixed with regret at the avenues I had to leave unexplored.
Furthermore, in a climate which demands teachers be ‘calculable rather than memorable’ (Ball, 2008: 56) while simultaneously ‘teeter[ing] on the edge of moral regulation’ (Ibid. : 54) many highly professional and motivated teachers do not have the time to explore the complexities of the past in terms that go beyond the (demanding) curriculum. At the INSET training mentioned above we were asked for examples of practice where teachers had explored the assumptions of their subject in relation to race, gender and sexuality. As I shared the work I had done with colleagues, I was conscious of a silence. ‘It’s sad and predictable that it takes a trainee to produce that kind of good work’ was the verdict of my head of department. I think he was being unfair in his assessment of the importance of the reasoned and critical approach to curriculum design and supportive collegiate atmosphere that he promotes in the department and wider college (as my ‘host teacher’ for the slavery discussion he encouraged me to run the session looking at language). But he also has a point: Janet Broad notes the increasing ‘structural’ pressure on teachers in FE. If (following Edward et al., 2007) teachers face ‘endless change coming at them from all directions and struggling to balance the needs of their learners with the demands of their managers, inspectors and funding sources’ (Broad, 2015: 19) then we should not be surprised if spending valuable teaching time on what are (it might be argued in a purely instrumental sense) side-issues seems difficult to justify, however much the individual teacher feels they are important.
From the ‘demand side’, the introduction of a market model in FE (and more and more at secondary and primary levels) means that students have to be canny consumers: conducting admissions interviews at my placement college I was struck by the high level of precision with which many students had mapped out their college careers before getting their GCSEs. FE is seen as a transitional stage of education in a way which has no real parallel: it follows the grounding of secondary education and leads to the end result of Higher Education or employment.
This is, I suspect, a huge part of the strategic problem for the sector: it is an intersectional institution, neither base camp nor summit but a staging post between the two. This lack of clear identity, combined with per capita funding and a continuing perception in government that it is for ‘other people’s children’ (Hodgson, Bailey and Lucas, 2015: 1) has led to the sector responding with progressively sharper commercial attitudes. The warning in the Kennedy Report that colleges were having ‘not just to be businesslike but to perform as if they were businesses’ (Kennedy, 1997:3) has translated into measurable problems in what Baryana (2013) terms ‘unethical recruitment’ as some colleges recruit students who are unable to perform at the appropriate level (to keep the lights on) while others refuse entry to those who may not make the grades (to manipulate pass rates).
The broader problems endemic in British education are not fixable without changes in government policy and a reorienting of society’s attitudes to education. A collection of resources will not address these. They will, however, save the teacher time: #missinghistories will constitute a ‘shared drive’ allowing teachers to access free high-quality material that addresses their curriculum in a way that is tailored to their locality and reflecting adjustments made in the classroom. The idea is to make it just a little easier for the interested teacher to deliver a lesson that takes a broader view of the curriculum and its content.
Moreover, while as a history teacher I am most aware of the needs of my subject, there is obvious scope for other teachers to join and create resources that link the problematic representation or non-representation of the past to contemporary issues. Teachers of Psychology and Sociology might find the location of the Imperial War Museum on the site of the Royal Bethlem Hospital an interesting way to talk about mental illness and its stigma and link from that to the Time to Change project run as a partnership by Rethink and Mind. The Kindertransport memorial at Liverpool Street Station could link to the work of Refugee Action, the Refugee Council or Refugee Support Network just as surely as to the Wiener Library, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust or Holocaust Educational Trust. Returning to my cup of coffee, the story of slavery should be linked to the work of Stop the Traffik and Antislavery International to end modern slavery and people trafficking: the Mediterranean migrants that have been in the news this summer are the latest response to the political and ideological structures that took the slave ships across the Atlantic. The only limit is your creativity guided by your values.
This page is under construction while I figure out how to install an interactive map! For the moment, please post in the comments box provided and to the #missinghistories twitter feed: @missinghist.
Until a map is installed, these give an idea of what a map might look like as well as the scale: London is the canvas! The resources can be downloaded as well: The World’s War Questions and Talking About Slavery. Click here for the full project description.