Zaruhi, a teacher from Tavush, looks back at her school years with pity, recalling how Armenian History took a back seat to the prominence of Soviet narratives. Back in her school days, they studied Armenian history for about an hour per week. Nowadays, it’s quite the opposite — with 1.5-2 periods/week allotted to Armenian History classes instead of the 1 period/week of World History. Moreover, students and teachers often say that the Soviet period is not taught in detail, especially in high school.
In light of Armenia’s current geopolitical situation, teachers believe it’s important to rethink the country’s Soviet past and approach it more comprehensively and analytically. Although all the teachers participating in the dialogue seem to agree that there should be a diversion from the usual “black and white” lens through which the Soviet period is taught, many still hold preconceptions about the era and its consequences.
According to one of the teachers, the point should be to present the reality. “Things should be presented the way they were,” says Zaruhi. Her assertion might suggest that in her mind, historical events occurred in a specific way, even if different from what is currently asserted as true, and her responsibility as an educator is to pass on that one objective truth to the younger generation. Zaruhi’s view doesn’t leave much room for historical thinking, an approach employed by educators in many parts of the world, which acknowledges that history isn’t an unchanging, linear narrative and encourages one to analyze various primary sources and consider multiple interpretations.
“When I open the school books, I don't even want to read them,” says Anush, “Even if I want to present something about the Soviet Union, I won't be able to make it interesting if they expect me to prepare students for exams based on study guides.” Anush’s concern that textbooks aren’t captivating enough is shared by other teachers, too. When teachers complain about poorly written books, their main concern seems to be keeping students focused through superficial engaging factors rather than having a textbook that would foster a better understanding of the subject. The focus, however, should perhaps be not on expanding students' attention span but on giving them the necessary tools to contextualize and analyze things.
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.