History in the classroom: “The children nowadays have no idea what is going on”

The Battle of Waterloo, how King Brian Borough upset the Vikings at Clontarf and how the Bishop of Munster knocked on the gates of Stade. According to historian Martin van Rossem, knowledge of history among young people, and national history in particular, is in poor shape.

Van Rossem made the statement in response to an episode of the TV show The smartest personWhere he is a member of the jury. In one episode, none of the candidates could tell which Frisian city St. Boniface was killed in. According to Van Rossem, the example is not unique, but indicates a pattern where people know less and less about history.

Heine Beckenkamp: “They often have no idea what’s going on”
In Groningen, Hein Bekenkamp took part in Groningens Ontzet and stories about the Yesse Abbey near Essen. “I want to make it clear that I am not a historian, but I immerse myself in it endlessly. I notice very clearly that knowledge is declining. In Yesse we organize excursions regularly. I often notice, especially with children and young people, that before I can start the excursion, I have to tell a lot of information about that time. What was the world like then? What were the relationships like? They don’t really have a clue what’s going on. And it’s not accidents, but events that I come across more and more often. I also see it in my grandchildren.”

“Basic information you can use in today’s problems”
Beckenkamp: “It’s very important to give children these portfolios. It’s a piece of foundation that you can build on, allowing you to analyze things better and put them into perspective. It’s a piece of basic knowledge that you can use for contemporary problems. And to be clear, you don’t hear me say that children They must learn years by heart. That the Battle of Nieuwpoort took place in the year 1600 is, from my point of view, empty knowledge. And also because no one knows exactly where Nieuwpoort is. But it is about the big picture.”

History is a subject that combines economic, political, social, artistic and philosophical aspects. In havo and vwo, the subject is compulsory in the lower years. In senior years, the subject is represented in two of the four graduation profiles. About 65 percent of all HAVO students take exams in this subject, compared to 50 percent at VWO. In pre-professional secondary education, history is part of the composite subject “People and Society”, which is part of lower secondary education. In the upper years it is an elective subject, with 1 percent of the basic and intermediate vocational learning tracks taking an examination in this subject. For the theoretical learning track, this figure is about 35 percent.

Jacobien Knol: “According to the interest of the teacher”
Jacobien Knol is a teacher at Sint Michaëls School in Stade. It also initiated 5,000 Groningen Relief brochures that were delivered to primary schools last year. Knol: “Knowledge about Groningen Relief, for example, is under the snow. A few years ago, the history course was absorbed in the direction of the world. But if you consider subjects such as the Dutch language, arithmetic and citizenship to be among the most important pillars, you know where history stands.” It still depends on the teacher’s interest. If the teacher enjoys putting energy into history, you’re in luck. But in most cases, the subject is just snowing.”

Involving children in the story
According to Knol, it has to do with how the education is organized: “You can tell a very boring and dry story. But if you make an allegorical run, and involve children in the story, you make it more engaging. Take for example the relief celebration of Groningen in 1972, the jubilee year. The celebration took place That big. I remember that to this day, the town was teeming with rumors that a lot was about to happen. As children, our teachers took us to that story: what’s going on, how about that. Inspiration It is often lacking these days.”

Hein Bekenkamp: “It’s a pity that when you’re on holiday you’re standing in a castle and you don’t know its background”
Beckenkamp agrees: “We like to go on holiday these days. And it’s a pity if you’re standing as a family in a palace, castle or fortress, where you have no idea what the story is behind it. We used to go as a family on a camping holiday in Greece. A family conversation about the history of classical ancient Greece. Not to the point of death, but to have an idea of ​​where you put your foot when you’re there on vacation. To know what happened in general.”

“You have to bring history back to life.”
According to Beckenkamp, ​​it has to do with the talent of the teachers. “I can imagine that nowadays a teacher tells something from a booklet, some questions are asked and then a topic is flagged in class. With this idea we had a good time again. But did the children learn anything from it? Of course not. You have to You bring history back to life. You have to include children in the story. These can be very beautiful stories, but they are also horrible stories. It stirs. Something like that sticks. Now critics will say, but it’s all searchable on the Internet, right? Yeah of course But the two lines about an event on the Internet will never stick. Knowledge stands or falls with educators who can tell stories and who are willing to capture them.”

Youth Theatre
When asked if guest lecturers could not be a solution: “In itself, yes, as long as they have the gift of telling a story well. A good example is the youth theater we perform at the Stad around Groningens Ontzet. In recent years, hundreds of children have been able to From seeing this piece. That’s a form of teaching something. I’m sure the kids who saw this will remember who the Bishop of Münster was years later. And the name Carl von Rabenhaupt will seem familiar to them too. And they really don’t need to know everything. But suppose that These kids are becoming politicians in the future. So it’s very important to know how your city has evolved, right? What are the important sites? How did something arise? To see the big picture.”

Janeth Menger (City Party 100% for Groningen): “The move hasn’t been done yet”
The fact that history is important is also recognized in the Groningen City Council. In the fall of 2021, a proposal was passed on the initiative of various parties to give space to history in the education of Groningen. Janeth Menger of the city party 100% in favor of Groningen was one of the petitioners at the time: “This proposal has not yet been implemented. Implement it. If you make a proposal at the council level and all parties support it, there is a much greater chance that something will happen quickly.”

In elementary school, the whole class would comment on every word of the teacher when he told a story.
Menger agrees with Bekenkamp and Knol: “History is part of your development. Without history you miss certain analyzes of understanding things. It is part of your being, where did you come from? And there is a beautiful saying: ‘History repeats itself’. If you don’t know the history of an event, it means That the foundation is missing. I have always enjoyed the profession very much. I had a zealous headmaster, as he was then called, reading from books on Friday afternoons. I can remember him reading from Jean Terlot’s The Winter of War. The whole class hung on his every word “WWII was born. You learned that war can bring out the worst in people and you are forced to make choices. These are life lessons that you will take with you for the rest of your life.”

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