A plea for history as a subject in its own right

by Dr phil René Roca, grammar school teacher for history in Basel and head of the Research Institute for Direct Democracy

Curriculum 21 has now been introduced in the entire Volksschule (i.e. at all primary and lower secondary schools) in German-speaking Switzerland, with the exception of the canton of Aargau. At the secondary school level (Sek I) it also includes collective subjects. In most cantons there is now, among other things, the collective subject “Räume, Zeiten, Gesellschaften” (RZG; shorthand for “Spaces, Times, Societies”) instead of history and geography. Swiss history educationalists are rightly laughed at for this by foreign colleagues. The subject of history is disappearing, even though it lays the central foundation for our direct-democratic political system in elementary schools and has an important integrative function, especially for pupils with a migration background.
The value of the traditional, historically grown canon of subjects, including history as a subject taught in its own right, cannot be emphasised enough. It is the fruit of our history of science. The result is a structure of knowledge that is immediately apparent in schools, but also in libraries and universities. Knowledge is not a hodgepodge that can simply be “reassembled” under any term you want. Interdisciplinary work is only possible when structured basic knowledge is available. Especially at secondary school level, but also at primary schools, it is necessary to continuously impart historical knowledge.
Current curricula for the subject RZG in various cantons show that “history” is only recognisable in the classroom in individual fragments, the weighting of which – apart from a few binding contents – is not fixed but is left to the discretion of the individual teachers. Thus, if the term “history” is abandoned, the specificity of historical thinking is abandoned. If a primarily thematic and thus mostly arbitrary approach to history is sought, this comes at the expense of an awareness of chronology and orientation in time. Historical awareness and historical thinking fall by the wayside. The ultimate sufferers are the students. There is still time to stop this nonsense by means of cantonal initiatives (see Canton of Baselland) and to reinstate history as an independent subject in lower secondary schools.     •

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