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Intergenerational Dialogues. Why Teach History? Part 4

The idea of patriotism plays a two-fold role in the classroom, based on what the teachers said: it is something they believe they should develop and something they believe has made students more interested in history. Specifically, they hold that the 2020 Artsakh War has contributed to increased interest in history. “They, too, realize that they need to know more,” observes Ani, a teacher from Yerevan. She adds that the war has also influenced the way she approaches teaching. Ani, whose husband fought in the 2020 war, has taken up a more assertive methodology. “We went through all that — through all the pain and suffering,” she says, adding that students must be obliged to study history. “It is important to teach world history as well, to put them in comparison, to take ownership of the country, so that we don't get lost in the whirlwinds of history,” she adds. Ani hopes this approach will connect students to their national identity and prevent them from saying, “I'm going to become a programmer. Why do I need history?”

As can be seen here, throughout the dialogue, in addition to concerns about nation-building and ideas of increasing criticality, the last running thread was how history affects students nowadays and how it can affect their actions. Ani’s example above implies that when people have a direct connection to historical events, whether, through personal experience or the experiences of loved ones, the emotional resonance of those events can reshape their perception of history's significance. 

To conclude, this dialogue on history teaching reflects an ongoing transformation on pedagogy and its possible societal impact. While all the participants recognized the need for a more critical and engaging approach to teaching and learning history at school, the transition from the rote memorization approach has been slow and gradual. The participants believed that history is not merely a recounting of facts but rather a dynamic dialogue between the past and the present that demands critical thinking. However, there was also a tension within this discourse, as some participants (mainly teachers) assigned a specific moral role to history education, expecting it to play a role in nation-building. On the one hand, this perspective may emphasize broader societal expectations placed on history as a school subject. On the other hand, the undervaluing attitude of other teachers (mainly hard sciences, as mentioned by the participating teachers) shows quite opposite expectations. Nevertheless, balancing these dual objectives of fostering critical thinking and serving as a tool for nation-building can be challenging, even if both aims are considered equally important. 

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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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