History and the Junior Cycle

 

Sir, – I would like to address some points made by Gary Granville in his opinion piece on “Should history be compulsory for Junior Cert students?” (March 26th).

Mr Granville has missed the point of the current debate on the availability of history at Junior Cycle. The conflict is not one that can simply be reduced to “in favour of or opposed to the subject”.

What is at issue is that by allowing schools to opt out of providing history as a core subject, an increasing number of our young people will be deprived of the right to their past. The formal training of history for them will end at primary school, and all that will be available to them at secondary level will be a short-course “history experience” which can be delivered by any teacher regardless of their professional history training. He goes on to state that this “comprehensive Junior Cycle curriculum requires all students to have a rich experience of history learning”.

If only that were so. The framework document allows the management of individual schools the power to decide who should and should not be given the opportunity to study history in the first place. We in the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland (HTAI) believe in equality of opportunity for all our young people to learn about their past in a systematic and professional way and that it should not be at the discretion of school principals.

By placing history at the core, we can ensure that our young people will not have their history education reduced to “bite-size” or “tapas-style” short courses presented by non-specialised teachers as this can only lead to ignorance and a distortion of the past. The HTAI were keen participants in the drafting of the final junior cycle history specification and so far have found the teaching of it a positive and rewarding experience. However, as I write, because of the decision to allow schools to either remove of marginalise history in their menu of Junior Cycle options, fewer and fewer students will enjoy the benefits of this new course. As a result of this, students will be unlikely to take up history at senior level and beyond. This is very worrying.

Like Mary O’Rourke in her piece on the same subject, we in the HTAI will save a last cheer for the Minister for Education should he decide to reverse the current position of history in our schools and place it at the core at Junior Cert level. – Yours, etc,

DEIRDRE

MAC MATHÚNA,

President,

History Teachers’

Association of Ireland,

Dominican College

Muckross Park,

Donnybrook,

Dublin 4.