HISTORY LESSONS

 We now present the Reverend Hellfire’s annual Australia/Invasion/Survival Day Sermon for 2013.European Labour only

HISTORY LESSONS

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?, said Alice.

“Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle, “nine hours the next and so on.”

“That’s the reason they’re called lessons,” the Gryphon remarked, “because they lesson from day to day.” –Lewis Carroll 

I’ve been thinking about the Young Generation growing up in Australia today and it has occurred to me that they have absolutely no sense of History, either of this country’s history or indeed world history in general. The main reason for this appears to be that we have stopped teaching children History in our schools. As a result most of them possess only distorted fragments that they’ve picked up here and there through watching TV and movies.

Which is not to say that the Medium hasn’t produced some fine historical docu-drama’s over the years, because it has. From the BBCs classic adaption of Robert Graves “I, Claudius” to the more recent HBO series “Rome“, television has often helped us to resurrect and re-interpret the past anew, so we might consider it with modern eyes.

But while such entertainment may assist in the process of keeping the memory of History alive, still there needs to be someone in charge of teaching the Young Folk the outline, the structure, the distance of History’s Grand Sweep. Walking them along the Timeline, as it were, from the banks of the Nile & Euphrates till our footsteps lead us ineluctably to Today. Now naturally one would assume that this is the job of the Education System, but it seems that in the rush to become technologically “savvy”, History as a Subject has fallen by the wayside, a Specialist’s field to be taught mainly in the rarefied atmosphere of a University.

 

parthenon-moonrise-c-sacredsites

Take my kid for example. Pretty much all the History she knows is what I have taught her. The modern education system has taught her virtually nothing.

In Primary School she learnt two things about Australia’s History; 1. there was a goldrush,

2. Expo 88 happened in Brisbane in 1988.

I’m serious! Thats all they taught her! On the other hand, by the time I left primary school I could draw a pretty good map of Australia with cities and rivers and I had the basic outline of the last 200 years of History. Yes, the Aboriginals were given shamefully scanty mention, but that doesn’t invalidate what we did learn.

Perhaps there was an overemphasis on heroic white male explorers trekking off into the wilderness to die for the glory of the Empire, but nonetheless we got a good gist of the broad sweep, from convict days, through the small settlers battling the pastoralists, the goldmining rush, the radical nineties, Federation, the sacrifices of World War 1 & and the desperate days of the Depression and World War 2.

At the time much of it seemed dull to us kids of course, but still it was our history and I’m glad they bothered to teach it to us. It gave us a sense of who we were and why things were the way they were, like, for example, why people of my grandmother’s generation hated the Japanese so much.

But is that History I was taught still relevant? Most of my daughter’s school friends are Asian, should we be teaching them about Australia’s racist past? The White Australia Policy and the Fear of the Yellow Peril? For past generations the Asian Hordes always seemed poised to sweep down upon them, resulting in decades of paranoia, from the anti-Chinese riots in the gold-field days, to the 50’s trumpeting the peril of the Communist Domino Theory. (I’ve got an old, pre-WW2 chair in my kitchen, a relic of White Australia days, which underneath has proudly engraved the words: “European Labour only”.) Yes, should we teach our multi-cultural classrooms about those days, or is it best perhaps just to hush it up, not mention the embarrassments of the Past and pretend they never happened?

 

castor  & pollux temple

When my daughter hit High School things didn’t improve. The school, which is supposedly a top-rating institution, didn’t even want to teach them History in grade 8. They were forced to by the Federal Government. And then they grudgingly did only the bare minimum of one semester. And how did the school approach that? They plonked the kids down into the middle of the Renaissance & the Reformation and expected them to make sense of it without any other historical context!

How can you teach kids about the Renaissance and the Reformation if they’ve got no idea what led up to that? The Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, the Romans? Its insane.

Now when I did grade eight the school spent a year sketching out the Human Time-line, from the Sumerians to the Middle Ages. This was useful for all the following years studying History in High School when we went back and covered each period in detail. By Senior there was Modern History added to the curriculum as well, covering the last two hundred years or so.

Still, even if you left school at 14 you had a general idea of the Past.

Today’s kids may know how to cyber-bully each other on Facebook, but they exist in a kind of Historical Free-fall. The education system of my youth circa 60/70’s had many, many faults, not the least of which was the every-day physical violence meted out to kids in the name of discipline, but at least it recognised History to be an important subject.

A paranoid and cynical man might think our Leaders (or is it Owners?) have a deliberate plan to dumb us all down so that we’re easier to manipulate, but I don’t know about that.

I do know that Education in Australia was one of the battlegrounds for the so called History Wars of the last decade or so. In one camp were those such as ex-Prime Minister John Winston Howard, crying out against what he called the “black-armband view of history” and defending the “traditional” triumphalist historical interpretation. In the other camp were those who wanted to “Politically Correct” History and radically rewrite not only what history said but what History was. The end result seems to be that there were no winners from this confrontation. It just all became too difficult so now they don’t even try to teach History in the schools. Here kid, have a laptop.

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Does it matter that our children know next to nothing of history?

After all, the great historian Edward Gibbon himself declared;

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.

While James Joyce called it..”a nightmare from which I struggle to awake.

If this is indeed the case why should we trouble young minds with humanity’s past mistakes, its terrible crimes, the ghastly suffering, the cruelty, slavery, the endless wars, the pogroms, the crusades, the persecutions..perhaps they’d be better off not knowing the awful truth? Or perhaps they need what humans are capable of, for, as the saying goes, “Those who Forget the Past, are condemned to Repeat it”?

Besides there is much in human history to celebrate, to be proud of: the development of science and art, the growth of philosophy and humanist values, our constant struggle to create order out of chaos, our slowly flowering consciousness.

In the end perhaps we should be teaching our children History because, as Cicero once observed:

Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever“.

and as parents it is our, sometimes melancholy duty, to escort our children to Adulthood.

Besides, without a History, how do you create an Identity? How can you have a Culture? A Society even? For the Past has created the Present and it will go on to create the Future.

"European labor only" Made in Australia 

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soul owner 2

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!!!!!!

The Reverend Hellfire is a recovering Performance Poet and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

Doesn’t have a business plan.

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~ by reverendhellfire on January 27, 2013.

7 Responses to “HISTORY LESSONS”

  1. History of everything has interested me since about age 7. By everything, I mean the universe, the stars, the Earth, life, and the strange doings of humans. I pity kids who live in a sort of vacuum of ‘here and now’ with no idea of how they got there, and who couldn’t care less. I was a teacher for 7 years, and had to stick to a ‘curriculum’, but for myself, I am certain that the most important stuff I know I have found out for myself. I give thanks for my curiosity, unquenched in my 84th year!

    • I’m right there with you, curse this grasshopper mind of mine, I’m interested in everything, dammit! Seriously tho,like yourself i taught myself most of what i know and have remained curious. Its a fascinating Life, eh what?
      As for those with no curiosity about the past, it was ever thus. As seminal Australian rocker Johnny O’Keefe once declared some time around 1956, “If it happened more than five minutes ago it’s not important.”
      Ah Youth!
      Say, as a matter of curiosity; you wouldn’t happen to know when they stopped celebrating “Empire Day” in Australia by any chance?

    • Hi there,

      SoundEagle agrees with Mr Malcolm Miller, who, at the age of 84, has epitomised the phrase “Live and Let Learn”.

      SoundEagle can see that Reverend Hellfire is a Brisbanite, and would like to commend you on the quality of this post, and on your concern for educating the younger generations about history. The issues that you mentioned are also critical in other countries such as the US. As problematic as the situations in political, racial, economic, sociocultural and environmental spheres, there was at least an outspoken figure such as Howard Zinn in the US to walk the US citizens through the timeline whilst diebunking or demythologizing the mainstream history. Who do/did Australia have as the counterpart to Zinn?

      In some ways, one could make the connection that Howard Zinn is to history what Carl Sagan is to cosmology. For a start, Zinn and Sagan have staunch admirers and detractors; both were educators and public figures; both had criticized, debunked, popularized, protested and been arrested in their respective activities and fields (history and science respectively). Zinn and Sagan are both Jewish.

      If you are interested in Sagan’s biography, then Keay Davidson’ book “Carl Sagan: A Life” is essential.

      SoundEagle really hopes that there are and can be many more of the likes of Howard Zinn in the past, present and future. Here are a few videos (each one is quite long) about Zinn:






      SoundEagle hopes that you’d find them informative and edifying, though it would take quite a while (as long as several hours) to go through all of them.

      You mention that “History as a Subject has fallen by the wayside, a Specialist’s field to be taught mainly in the rarefied atmosphere of a University.” Sadly, even tertiary education is not immune, and is increasingly vocationalised. And in all levels of education, history is hardly the only victim. Art, music, philosophy and other subjects are impacted.

      You also mentioned “Yes, should we teach our multi-cultural classrooms about those days, or is it best perhaps just to hush it up, not mention the embarrassments of the Past and pretend they never happened?” A three- or four-part documentary entitled “Immigration Nation” has been shown on SBS at least twice. Perhaps when your daughter is old enough, she can watch it.

      SoundEagle is going to follow and subscribe to your blog, and hopes that you will reciprocate.

      Happy April to you and your family!

      • Thank you Sound Eagle for your thoughts, and yes, agreed, the esteemed Malcolm Miller’s essays, poems and comments are always of value.
        Sadly I cannot off the top of my head think of an Australian historian of the standing of Mr Zinn, who managed to combine the careers of Academic,historian, journalist and social activist without ever losing his establishment credentials. Impressive. There’s John Pilger I suppose but he’s pretty much an outsider.Maybe Robert Hugh’s “The Fatal Shore” comes closest Clearly there’s a job vacancy here for Keeper of the Archives. Personally I think as we all get older we should all become Historians.
        Thanks for following my sermons. My time consuming pastoral duties alas preclude me from reciprocating, but I do my best to keep an eye on what my followers are doing and drop in now and then on all of them. especially those who bother to comment.
        Fly High Soundeagle!
        regards
        the Rev

      • Music soothes the beast. Playing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to your flock should allow you to take leave of your “time consuming pastoral duties” from time to time. 😉

        Assuming that you have a deeper passion or concern for history, anthropology, sociology, musicology, philosophy and environmental studies, SoundEagle would like to introduce you to the “Facing the Noise & Music” series of posts, the first two of which are:
        http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/facing-the-noise-music-grey-barriers-and-green-frontiers-of-sound-society-and-environment/

        http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/facing-the-noise-music-playgrounds-for-biophobic-citizens/

        Assuming that you are still keen, there is one more to read (when you have the time and mood), given that you have just read the second. It is (much) more technical, even though SoundEagle has already attepted to keep it as accessible as possible on
        SoundEagle’s multidisciplinary website/blog.

    • The previous long comment thus concludes all of SoundEagle’s sermons for this Sunday. Thank you for listening or reading.

      • Yes I only get up on my soap-box, sorry i mean my pulpit once a week (to bray at the moon like a maddened ass) so people don’t get too sick of my voice.

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