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Teaching the nation's story: comparing public debates and classroom perspectives on history education in Australia and Canada

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Teaching national history in school generates significant public anxiety and political debate—as the various 'history wars' around the world reveal. For many school students, however, studying their nation's past is dull and repetitive. Such lack of interest has been confirmed by surveys and research reports that reveal alarmingly low levels of national historical knowledge among young people, and there is growing popular concern that their ignorance of the past endangers the nation's future. Yet preoccupation with students' apparent national illiteracy tends to overlook how they connect with history in the first place. This paper draws on findings from a comparative Australian and Canadian research project that interviewed students and teachers about the ways they learned and taught history. It argues that any return to 'the facts' at the expense of critical historical engagement in class could turn students away from the subject.

Keywords: Australia; Canada; history education; history teaching

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Public History, University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway NSW 2007, Australia

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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