Thursday, September 02, 2010

Should UNESCO play a greater role in promoting truthful histories to foster peace?

In her book Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History Margaret MacMillan discusses the "History Wars" that go on over the history curricula in schools. She cites examples of the abuses of history such as false information purporting to be factual and selective use of history to bias student understanding, but she also cites examples such as:

  • joint development of textbooks for France and Germany to provide balanced views of the history of war and disputes between those countries,
  • a collaboration between an Israeli and a Palestinian to develop high school history texts to be used in both countries which would present both Israeli and Palestinian history side by side,
  • the revision of Japanese curricula in the 1970 to teach Japanese children about the death and devastation that had been wreaked on the Chinese by Japanese troops decades earlier,
  • the revision of the South African school curricula to deal honestly with apartheid as a result of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
UNESCO of course has for decades published major historical series, giving voice to historians in Africa, the Caribbean, Islamic countries and other regions of the developing world. In general, UNESCO does not seem to categorize its educational programs by the disciplines that are to be taught, but it does cite specific examples such as:
 Indeed, one of the very first UNESCO programs initiated immediately after World War II was a review of textbooks in use to assure that the historical and other distortions that had been introduced by Fascist governments before and during the war were corrected.

UNESCO is uniquely placed to provide a forum for discussion and a laboratory of ideas on how history teaching can be made more accurate, and especially how such accuracy can be a tool for reconciliation of groups within countries and better understanding between countries.

Check out the UNESCO Guidebook on Textbook Research and Textbook Revision in a new edition, describing how nations can work together to research and revise their textbooks.

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