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Why teachers should study Australian history

Studying history can help you land all sorts of jobs, including in teaching. Associate Professor Robert Parkes explains why teachers need history.
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I think there’s a number of reasons why Australian history is important to school education and why our pre-service teachers need to really engage with it. The first is that history is seen as a subject that helps them help students become citizens of the country and to really participate as a citizen you have to understand the narratives that circulate in society. We call that collective memory and students bring that collective memory with them to the classroom. The classroom is one of those few places where their personal narratives might be actually challenged through a kind of disciplinary approach or disciplinary thinking which a lot of people would talk about in a sort of generic way as critical thinking.
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We could talk about that distinction as a difference between the knowledge of the powerful, in other words whose history is being taught, versus powerful knowledge or the way that a discipline constructs its ways of understanding the world. And we can use our powerful knowledge to kind of engage with the question of whose history is being taught. So that’s really important.
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There’s been big debates in Australian history too about whether we should take a black armband view or what’s being called the three chairs view of the country, a celebratory narrative vs one that looks kind of critically at the past and it’s important to be able to engage with those debates and know where you sit on that in terms of the classroom. The curriculum itself addresses that quite specifically. I think there’s also a big identity question that’s really important.
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As an Australian you need to know where you’ve come from and that helps us think about where we’re going to and particularly when politicians or the media or just other people in your life start to mobilize narratives about Australian history that you are able to engage with those effectively and understand where those narratives are coming from. And I think the third thing that I would say is really a question of connection.
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For example it was only announced a week or so ago that the Endeavour, the boat that Cook was on when he mapped the east coast of Australia, that was discovered in a harbour in America and it’s really important to understand how connections in our own history in this country are connected to the world in various ways. The fact that Australia is a colony was precisely formed because convicts could no longer be sent to the US because the thing called the Boston Tea Party. There’s all these kind of weird connections that go on and the Endeavor eventually ends up in a harbour sunk precisely because it was taking troops to the Revolutionary War where America was fighting against the UK.
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If you don’t know those things then it’s hard to kind of get an understanding of why maybe we have the form of government we have etc. which comes back to that question of citizenship. So it’s really important to to have that kind of big picture in order to engage effectively in our national debates.

At the University of Newcastle, one of the largest bodies of students that major in history is education students.

The Head of School of Education, Associate Professor Robert Parkes is here to explain why history, especially Australian history, is so popular with teachers. He also outlines why historical knowledge and skills are essential to the teaching profession.

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Great South Land: Introducing Australian History

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