In all the angst about education, the Literature Wars and the History Wars and is public education running down beyond hope, I find this excerpt from my son’s state high school newsletter encouraging.
These are the research projects chosen by the 6 students doing Extension History for their HSC this year:
- Does the evidence from the ancient town of Pompeii support that it was built for the wealthy?
- Explain the philosophies of Michel Foucault and their impact on the development of Post-Modernism
- Assess the effects of Gorbachev’s reforms on the collapse of the USSR
- Evaluate the differing interpretations of the causes of Alexander the Great’s death.
- Does History end with Liberal Democracy?
- What are the differing interpretations of the 1951 seventeen point agreement?
- What are the objectives of historians who have written about the Holocaust?
The topics are chosen by the students themselves, they are expected to produce 2,500 words using the resources of the UNSW and referencing according to the Harvard Referencing System. They also have to provide a report evaluating their sources and submit a process log. The fourth essay above, evaluating the work of Francis Fukuyama, received full marks from the HSC assessors.
Sure, these students are amongst the elite academic achievers in this school, and the work submitted by the students studying history at the lower HSC levels will not be so original (nor so varied, I suspect). Yet it’s obvious the public school system can do things right when they have even this many students mentored to the level where they are capable of work like this.
My son’s not especially interested in history (much to my pain) so unless that changes by the end of next year when he chooses his SC electives, I’m unlikely to see him produce work like that above. Still, it’s very reassuring that when he goes for (almost guaranteed) Extension Maths and Computer Science in his later years of school, he will have access to projects incorporating this level of flexibility and critical thinking.