The Proposed History Curriculum for Schools- Part One

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Submitted by Graham Hill on Sun, 2021-06-13 21:01

This part one of a two-part essay.

History, from the Greek historia, means to find out. It is about seeking the causal explanation of the past events: not activism of the present. The proposed Schools History Curriculum was recently a topic on RNZ’s Morning Report (4 June 2021). The proposed curriculum has been the subject of a schematic ‘consultation’ document. RNZ’s interviewed several teachers, some of whom were involved in the preparation of the new Curriculum. In the usual MSM style, there was no contrary or differing view from historians questioning the form of historical analysis proposed. Michael Reddell on his Croaking Cassandra blog noted that any differing submission would, in his view be likely “deflected from” by bureaucrats with ideological agendas. His submission is excellent and well worth reading:

There is a serious debate to be had on this topic. A substantial transformation to a political Neo Marxist ideological discourse of critical race theory is suggested, an a departing from cannons of academic norms, with a purposive directed activist social justice telos, is not a bland vanilla event.

The United States present experience of schoolboards (recently Carmel Central School District school board, Putnam County, New York and Louden County, Virginia (the sound files have been posted on Solo Passion) and the Military (Epoch Times 10/6/2021 Senate Hearing comments by Senator Tom Cotton-Whistle Blowers say Military Forcing ‘Anti-American Indoctrination’) introducing critical race theory has not gone without opposition.

The consultation document argues for Maori History as a single-or the principal- thread of New Zealand history. One can have no argument with the enlarging of Maori History. The immense research for Waitangi Tribunal cases has generated a great source and content of Maori history. The argument is with the proposed frame, the understanding of historiography and the purpose of history.

History is not just taught for being informed about the past. History is a field of argument and dispute over interpretation by historians. Historical events are used as the datum for the training of the mind in the skills of writing argument and use of source and evidence, teaching the importance of chronologies as a logical narrative frame and examining causation, how to analyse sources and the weight to place on them and awareness of source biases; analysis of context; examining past actors as agents in their own time without hindsight judgment, their exigencies, beliefs and the weltanschauung -an age’s zeitgeist.

Le histoire des mentalities (the history of mindsets) of the famed Ecole Annales is a good example of the latter recognising how past ages thought and viewed the world is different to how we see it and view the past. Historical actors faced with events did not have the judgment of hindsight. There is now a tendency to mine the past to raise or add to present moral grievances as if they were the hurly-burly of the present giving rise to the intertemporal fallacy- the fusing of the past and the present- in the ‘quest for cosmic justice.'

As mention of the École Annales foreshadows there is not one but there are differing types of history: Micro History from dairies, Ancient History, economic, diplomatic, political, legal history, history of ideas/intellectual, history of literature, race, class and gender. Then there are the national histories and histories which fuse with other disciplines for further insight: geography and economics : i.e. Monde Braudel for example.

Genres of history exist imbued with their own intellectual flavours. For example, the Whig interpretation of History- history as the story of progress ( e.g. William Pember Reeves The Long white Cloud and Keith Sinclair’s History of New Zealand; The Romantic, Idealistic and Positivist schools of the 19thC; Prosopographical history (Lewis Namier/ Mathias Gelzer plotting the familial connections of the Roman elite); the ‘historical material determinism” of the Marxist interpretation (Eric Hobsbawn) to the softer left of the 'Past and Present School' of the late 1950’s and 1960’s which arrived In New Zealand with UK ‘Red Brick university graduates into teaching positions in the 1970’s on; and emergence in the late 1980s and 1990’s with the emergence of recalibrated Marxism, as Cultural or Neo Marxism, as structuralism and mining language and on to critical theory- the history of regression.

Bernard Bailyn In the Ordeal of Thomas Hutchison spoke of historical styles changing as time passes the occurrence of events: ‘the heroic’, ‘the Whig’ and then ‘the tragic’- all history is ultimately tragic. For example, the success of the Peace movement of the 1960’s, whereby the US forces exited Vietnam and the surrounding countries may have tragically brought about more deaths (2 million) in 2 years than in the entire Vietnam war, of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotian citizens on the communist takeover of those countries: (Sowell, Intellectuals… p 406 citing Victor Hansen and The Quest for Cosmic Justice p. 96) Another example of tragedy might be the German authorities during World War 1 sending Lenin and Trotsky back into Russia to keep Russia busy resulting in a totalitarian regime, slave labour, a horrendous death toll and the Povolzhye famine and the latter Ukrainian famine.

Some historical styles, genres and topics pass out of fashion. On the positive side, some coexist, some expand the inquiry and widen the frame of the past. e.g. geography, (Paul Moon’s history of the Waikato River comes to mind) anthropology and literature, They do so to find out more about the past which reveals the breadth of human activity and more about causation. On the negative side, some styles and genres through over-abstraction and on prescribed theoretical thread narrow human experience and what history is about to a single stereotyped item of economic material determinism of classes but now to race or gender.

Critical race theory stereotypes and its theoretical formula, with over-abstraction, dispenses with evidence that does not support the predicted outcome of the starting theory or the contours of the abstraction. It is to a great extent supplanting inductive with deductive inquiry. It is inimical to honest intellectual inquiry.

The proposed curriculum consultation document points – albeit obliquely given the methodological hand is not clearly shown - to a frame of critical race theory (CRT) as does the Radio NZ interview. Let us be clear, the frame is a Neo Marxist one in intent and representing a significant epistemological departure. The words “colonialism” “privilege”, “equity” and “social justice” flag the intended interpretative mode

Neo Marxist critical race theory is reliant on the premise human relations are ones of power. The blind predetermined premise, (an argument without content), is that power oppresses and is intended to oppress. The means of determining this is by “an analysis” of relations created by Michel Foucault in the “Oppressor v Oppressed” dialectic paradigm (the formula) which is essentially Marxist. Further predetermination arises in assessing where an actor or agent fits into the formula.

The dialectic, as we have seen, requires two separate prejudgments so as to arrive at the self-fulfilling or pre-determined conclusion of the identity of the oppressed. Thus an aspect of the curriculum is dogma verbally dressed up with a nod to quack or Charlatan “science” of the dialectic formula. It does not meet the test of disinterested inquiry into truth but of political narrative.

The paradigm or formula is, first, inherently flawed because first, it is ahistorical (and historicist per Popper and Berlin) methodologically speaking, as it is deductive logic- starting with a conclusion then selecting facts to fit the conclusion. Contrary facts are important to falsify or question an interpretation or hypothesis about the effect of a posited cause. The approach is not within the canons of academic scholarship and intellectual honesty which relies on inductive logic- facts leading upon analysis to a conclusion.

Starting with a conclusion is the stuff of ideology and religion. Secondly, the components are overly abstracted to which the “verbal virtuosity” of the theorists adds ‘structures and systems. Colonialism becomes a structure and a system of oppression whereas it is both a process or event. The effect of that is:

Although the talents and education of intellectuals would seem to enable them to be proficient at engaging in logically structured arguments, using empirical evidence to analyze contending ideas, many of their political or ideological views are promoted by verbal virtuosity in evading both structured arguments and empirical evidence. (Thomas Sowell Intellectuals and Society (2012) p.169)

A further consequence of the paradigm’s over-abstraction is to collectivise human agents. Boiling things down to increasing levels of abstraction, typical of Marx’s Hegelian infused journalism, obliterates nuance, difference, exceptions, diversity and choice by human agents. Ultimately, it leads to the obviating evidence and hard data, in favour of a stereotype,: stereotypes are the creation of predetermination and thus prejudice. (Gordon W Allport 1954) The logic of the formula speaks for itself. Significant causal factors beyond the oppressor-oppressed power paradigm are omitted or dispensed with, such as the actual benefits of colonialism. The reductionist and factually ill-equipped proponents of the neo-Marxist oppressor-oppressed paradigm are subject to inadequate to defective explanations of historical causation and meaning.

The Greek philosopher Plato illustrates the point of interpretation, in noting the difference between ‘opinion’/’superficial knowledge’ and ‘knowledge’. Rhetoric, which concerns the former, is for purposes of persuasion, makes a claim that is probable or ‘produces a conviction’ as its aim is not to educate but to sway. Creating a conviction is integral to advertising but also for activism and activism- for a political purpose or end- is an ongoing complaint of CRT in education as the United States experience shows.

In Part two we shall turn to the historical flaws of CRT thinking about the past and consider the nature of social justice which it uses.

Graham Hill MA (Hons) LL.B (Hons)
14 June 2021