Tuesday 15 October 2019

Joe McHugh: 'I made history compulsory so that future generations can learn how to avoid the mistakes of our past'

 

Joe McHugh is Minister for Education and Skills. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Joe McHugh is Minister for Education and Skills. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Joe McHugh

The Decade of Commemorations opened a new window for our nation.

Our appetite to learn more about our past has grown.

As has the importance we place on our history.

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Home Rule, the 1913 Lockout, World War I, the 1916 Rising, votes for women, the War of Independence and the Civil War are all being examined with a clear and unbiased vision.

And we are learning about ourselves.

We have many stories to tell.

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Conflict to peace; our beautiful language; our international migration and its global footprint.

And importantly the evolution of our relationship with our nearest neighbour, and relations with Europe.

Wherever our story takes us we must be conscious that it is a journey: with pitfalls and revelations, enlightenment and disappointment.

But if we don't check in the rear-view mirror from time to time, then we will not learn how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

In typical descriptive fashion one of my favourite Irish expressions, ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine (we live in each other's shadows) signposts the great people who have come before us.

I believe that an understanding of history is vitally important for future generations and failure to understand the past, or to be misled about it by those on the extremes, is a central factor in current controversies.

The UK is convulsed by division over Brexit.

There is political turmoil in the US, with President Donald Trump facing an impeachment inquiry.

And there is a worrying rebirth of a paranoid nationalism across Europe.

There is a danger that history can be abused to give a false justification for words and actions which would otherwise be unacceptable.

We have an obligation to teach our young people about the dark side of our history: the mistreatment of women, including those confined to Magdalene Laundries; our State's discrimination against those who did not fit in because they were Travellers, gay, non-religious or unionist; and the shameful physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults and its cover up.

READ MORE: Republic of Shame by Caelainn Hogan: Devastating account of the Church’s treatment of Irish women

This must be taught so that future generations can see the wrongs and understand how we should have acted.

Knowledge of how we have brought our planet to a tipping point and plunged our climate into crisis may hold the key to finding a solution.

Our island's journey from conflict to peace is a turbulent one that must be understood, especially by those who were spared the trauma of shootings and bombings.

READ MORE: Editorial: 'Knowledge of history vital - if only to move beyond it'

Some who do not know the truth may be misled into believing the lies of sinister groups, that are all too present and thirsting to return to the carnage of the past, and still targeting impressionable minds.

The rich and vibrant history of our language, which is all too often overlooked, offers an avenue to help awaken a love of Irish.

Almost a year ago I asked the NCCA to carry out a review into the subject of History, and what many had described as its downgrading at Junior Cycle.

The NCCA's report is an in-depth analysis.

I want to thank the NCCA for its work.

The new Junior Cycle course is far superior to the way history was taught in the past.

It is more engaging for young people and allows the subject to move beyond chalk and talk.

As we work to give History special status within the Junior Cycle, I want to at least maintain the current number of students who are taking the subject and to achieve this without losing the progress made to date.

The NCCA report itself, the wider public debate and the many discussions I have had on the issue lead me to believe that it is not enough to just speak about History at Junior Cycle.

History was traditionally taught in the vast majority of schools and studied by the vast majority of pupils.

Optional History puts that in doubt.

I want to see the status of History enhanced to that of a special core subject within the new Junior Cycle in order to sustain that high level of interest.

I do not for a moment think this will be a simple task.

But I am asking the NCCA to work with me and the Department of Education and Skills in the coming months to achieve this goal.

The love of any subject is born in primary school and the real in-depth study is at Senior Cycle and beyond.

Since I received the NCCA report I asked officials to talk to education partners about a range of supports that we hope will engage young people more with History.

Over the next few months I hope to deepen that work, with the support of the NCCA and others, to develop a Young Historians' Competition and to introduce supports allowing more schools to visit historic sites.

By seeking special core status for History and the associated promotion, my aim is to achieve three ultimate goals:

  • To increase the number of History students at Senior Cycle;
  • To maintain the high percentage of History students at Junior Cycle;
  • And to awaken a love of History at primary level, guaranteeing future generations of well-informed, active citizens who understand the importance of history in shaping the future.

Joe McHugh is Minister for Education and Skills

READ MORE: Education Minister signals he's open to history being core Junior Cert subject

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