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Intergenerational Dialogues. Why Teach History? Part 1

“When I introduce myself to students saying that I’m going to teach history, their first reaction is that they’re going to memorize dates, but I break that stereotype because history implies critical thinking and the ability to analyze,” says Sose, a teacher from Yerevan. She is among those who encourage their students to analyze and contextualize historical events, not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Quoting a Chinese saying, “Don’t forget your past; it’s the teacher of the future,” Susanna, a teacher from the Kotayk region, believes that knowing history is key to dealing with future challenges. According to her, the main goal of studying history is self-discovery. While these two aims sound similar, Susanna’s ideas of self-discovery are more rooted in an assumption that there is a clear identity to discover versus an identity to construct based on work with historical sources. 

From the perspectives of the younger generation participating in the dialogue, history teaching should have been taught through the multiperspectivity concept. Tigran, a student studying International Affairs at the Yerevan State University, notes the importance of using multiple sources to construct knowledge rather than just using one source to discover what happened. Similarly, Tatev, a student at the American University of Armenia (AUA), mentions that while using multiple sources, “it is important that a person also can find cause and consequence.” Neither of these students thinks the exploration of history should be a goal in itself. Rather, Tatev notes, "The goal is to help students realize that they can really do things in the present which will turn the future into something to be proud of, and not into something painful.” Similarly, Tigran mentions, "An individual who knows history is very difficult to manipulate and deceive.” Therefore, they both find that history education has the potential to shape a more well-rounded and resilient society.

While many consider history teaching important because of the aims mentioned above, as a result of how it is currently taught, the subject faces unequal treatment by representatives of other disciplines and society at large. According to Mariam from Vayk, teachers working in natural sciences or other subjects, not just in Armenia, but for example, in London as well (based on what she has heard during teacher training with professionals from London), often hold that history is “a basic subject that students can learn by just skimming through.” Because of that, Mariam thinks, "The responsibility to cultivate interest in our subject rests upon us.” This line of thought often leads to teachers looking for different strategies for making the subject interesting, which do not always fit with active historical thinking.

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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.

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