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Intergenerational Dialogues. Why Teach History? Part 3

“History is inherently biased. The sources from which we take history already have a biased approach, which doesn’t allow us to understand the text properly — where we slipped and where we went wrong. You read the passages; it's all self-praise. It doesn’t address the mistakes and their consequences,” explains Sose, noting that the student may be left confused with this approach of reading biased sources that present everything in black and white, heroism or betrayal. “The student reads all that and is convinced that we were a fabulous nation and then doesn’t get why we now have what we have”. While the point about all historical sources being inherently biased is valid, equating the bias in all of them is problematic. Additionally, some teachers might not reflect or have the resources to support their thinking on introducing historical sources to students without confusing them. Yes, if students read such sources with no criticality and while taking everything said at face value, they might develop a certain view of the world that is far from a realistic view or a view that supports their existence in current reality. However, doesn’t the role of teachers assume supporting the students in working with those sources per se? 

A specific example of this is when we think about the way historical characters are presented. The teachers hold that oftentimes certain characters are presented as good or evil without questioning. “For example, people have a rigid idea about King Pap and his mother Parandzem, but if you read the source, analyze why the writer wanted to portray them in a negative light, it becomes clear that what he wrote should not be accepted unequivocally. Not everything is black and white,” she says. Sose even goes further to state that “history is man-made and is done so by someone’s order”. If that is the case, how do teachers suggest handling that in the history classroom?

Tatev (student) and Susanna (teacher) agree that history should depict both the good and the bad, the successes as well as the failures, however, without falling into a victim mentality. “The student shouldn’t be left with the impression that patriotism ends with self-sacrifice, that you have to go and die, and that's it. Creativity, for instance, is also a struggle,” says Susanna, noting that in her opinion, patriotism is also expressed in the way students greet their family members, neighbors and teachers.

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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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