Preface – by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord (Euroclio)

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Preface
by
Joke van der Leeuw-Roord
President {EUROCLIO}, The Hague
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What does history mean to young people? 32,000 teenagers of fourteen and fifteen in 26/27 Countries in Europe, including Israel and Palestine, have been asked to reflect on this question. In a lengthy questionnaire they were examined about issues such as their interest in historical topics and approaches, their associations and attitudes to and their understanding of history, about ways of teaching, concepts, and expectations for the future. The YOUTH and HISTORY project will be a rich source of data for many people related to the fields of pedagogy and social sciences. Particularly for history educators, the results of this research project are very significant, and ask for further considerations. Almost everywhere in Europe media, politicians, and history educators are discussing how history ought to be seen, what should be taught during the history classes and how. Not only in Central and Eastern Europe, where history education had to be altered after the changes in 1989 -1991, but also in the other parts of Europe, these issues are widely debated. And this is not only a European phenomenon, for example in the United States and South Africa, these questions have also lead to heated polemics. It often astonishes me, how easily people talk about the achievements of history education. It seems that we hardly question what is really happening in history classes. Before the YOUTH and HISTORY project was started, very little data were available about the results of history education. We easily and happily assumed that the, often ambitiously formulated, aims and objectives in the curricula were actually reached by the pupils. With this major investigation, history educators have relevant data about the results of their work. History curricula display remarkable ambitions. The aims and objectives of many curricula usually show little doubt about the achievements of history education. Pupils simply receive knowledge of the past, understanding of the present and orientation for the future. In the questionnaire, young people in Europe were asked if they consider these objectives as being important for history education. Most of them agree on the knowledge of the past being important, although in Slovenia and Denmark they are not too sure about that. They acknowledge the importance of understanding the present, although pupils in Greece do not really go for this objective. Generally they ascribe less weight to gaining orientation for the future, but there are important differences between individual countries. For example, young people in Lithuania, Russia and Turkey consider this an important objective too. Modern curricula assume that history education develops democratic skills and attitudes in young people. According to the answers to the questionnaire, it is far from certain that history educators have been able to arouse the interest of young people for topics like politics and the development of democracy. Although most of the teenagers believe that in forty years Europe will be democratic, they show little interest in learning about democracy, except for the pupils in Greece and Turkey. The results of this part of the investigation urge history educators to find ways to engage their pupils‘ interest in those topics, which are vital for the reinforcement of democratic societies. According to many curricula, history education generates historical consciousness, without actually defining this concept. In this survey the research tried to find out what historical consciousness means to young people and how it is developed. To prepare the subject for the Twenty First Century, history education is being innovated all over Europe. Not only the ’narrating teacher‘, but also written and pictorial sources, video and tapes, and activities like role-play, projects and visits to museums should be part of history education. The question is, whether the pupils have already noticed these developments. In France, Spain, England, Scotland and Portugal, working with sources is really a recognized method, but the realisation of this approach is far from generally accepted in the other countries. The use of video and tapes and the application of alternative activities like roll-play, projects and visits to museums seem not to be implemented at all throughout the whole of Europe. Do the pupils enjoy history education? History teachers are often convinced that history is a source of adventure and excitement. The results demonstrate quite some differentiation among the countries (in Russia, for example, pupils do confirm this assertion). But most pupils do not really agree that history is a source of adventure. The attitude of young people towards their teachers is remarkably positive. Most of the teenagers trust the correctness of the representation of the past by teachers, and even enjoy it. The European pupils have given their teachers good marks for their performance. The results of this investigation more or less contradicts the picture that ’narrating teachers‘ are only boring. This conclusion should also be used in further debates about educational innovation. I hope that the results of this important project will convince decision makers and history educators to use the outcome of the survey. They should also invite researchers to draw additional conclusions and open further investigations to specify certain answers. There is a risk that the results will only be used for scientific purposes. To prevent this it will be necessary to recommend the conclusions of the project for future history and civics curriculum- and textbook development and for teaching practise in history lessons. {EUROCLIO} is very grateful that the organisers have been so persistent in working on this project. We know that it has been far from easy to bring together researchers from so many countries and to find financial resources for this enterprise. But their faith in a positive outcome kept the project going, and now offers a very rich source of information about historical and political consciousness among young people. I can but congratulate the organisers and the national coordinators whole-heartedly to this monumental result and advise every person interested in history teaching to study this book with great attention.

The Hague, in December 1996
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