Taking Research to the Secondary School Classroom

Kerry Love is one of our wonderful PhD students! She has written a blog for us about her experiences in a school classroom. 

Takahata highschool 10; under Creative Commons licence

To me, the desire to teach is a basic extension of having passion for your subject. As an undergraduate, one of the most common career goal assumptions you’ll be faced with is ‘so you want to be a history teacher?’ and the enthusiasm with which you’ll defend your interest in it is definitely one needed to teach. During my MA I started to build up some experience as a GCSE and A-Level history tutor, mainly to get some ‘education’ experience. I was considering applying for a PGCE, so it seemed to be a logical step. A lot of it was in a summer school, so during that summer for the first time in my life I’d switched places and was standing alone in a room full of teenagers needing a rapid-fire revision of the Cold War. Whilst intimidating at first, I enjoyed the experience and it made me realise I wanted a career in education in some form. This way I could convince reluctant students that it was a subject that they could do well in and enjoy exploring further. In a way, I think it might have pushed me towards further study as well, as without realising it this was also the time I started to explore applying to start a PhD on the basis that if I learn more I could teach better!

The one thing I picked up on from my time tutoring was the familiar, but fairly restrictive curriculum. The range and depth of topics taught at university differs so much from those taught at level 1, 2 and 3. I didn’t entirely decide on history until I started to study it at university to be honest – it was more of a ‘why not?’ when choosing my own degree subject at that time. Naturally, when I did some research for my own work experience, and found the university’s UniClub tutor team whereby PhD students develop and run their own module based on their research, I thought it was perfect as I had free reign to teach exactly what I enjoy the most!

The skills that studying history teaches are becoming increasingly useful to help young people become critical and active political citizens, especially at secondary level. Source evaluation and the ability to critically interpret where news and media may originate are more valuable now than ever. In July, the education secretary Damian Hinds announced that ‘fake news’ training would be incorporated into the curriculum as part of citizenship studies. Perhaps through my own naivety, I found it baffling that there was no recognition of the fact that this already exists as a subject and that the practical present-day applications of history skills were not being emphasised! The ability to consider why someone might share something and consider bias is something in built in history study at GCSE level, and it only served to emphasise how important and sometimes misinterpreted history as a valuable, practical subject can be.

As I write this we are in the midst of an election campaign featuring very regular news reports on misrepresentation or the spread of misinformation from parties across the spectrum. Whilst misinformation in politics is certainly not new, nor is ‘fake news,’ the prevalence of it in current affairs debates is by no means fading, which brings us on to my module.

“The Friends of the People”, Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811), Scottish painter and caricaturist, London, 15 November 1792, hand-colored etching, published by S. W. Fores, No. 3 Piccadilly.

The provisional title is ‘Politics and the Press: Books, News and Print Media since the 18th Century.’ I’m still working out the exact topics and lesson plans, but the aim is to focus heavily on how print media has been used to influence politics from the 18th Century to the present day. I want to focus heavily on source material as this is something that tends to prove the most engaging- encouraging students to analyse satirical prints and pamphlets from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and after providing them with some background, consider who might have written and produced them.

We will also look at censorship, including restrictions on publishing, the ‘seditious’ nature of Thomas Paine, and the Stamp Act of 1765 to consider why governments might not be keen on a free press. Then, we will move on to libraries and education, the Public Libraries Act of 1850 and consider how access to education and ‘appropriate’ forms of gendered education might have restricted women, as well as why the consensus might become pro-mass reading as the Victorians did with the expansion of the public libraries system. I’ve worked with Amnesty as a volunteer school speaker before, discussing Mary Wollstonecraft and girl’s rights to education and it proved to be popular so I’m hoping to echo that here.  Finally, students will consider the open access to books and printed materials that they have today, as well as freedom of information on the internet. In doing so, they will use some of the analysis skills developed earlier on to analyse an online article of their own choosing, that they have found to feature bias of some kind.

This way, hopefully students will use what they have learnt about why reading has both been restricted and encouraged for different reasons throughout British history. They can use this understanding to evaluate the information that they read and hear on a daily basis with an awareness that almost everyone writes with a motive, and link the way that they interpret news sources to the study of history, maybe even encouraging them to further their study of the subject. The idea being, by the time they hit voting age, they’ll be engaged and ready to critically evaluate whatever the politics of the present throws at them!

Lady P
‘Lady P Aragaph championizing’, a satirical print of 1814 which shows Lady Perceval writing ‘strong but not libellous’ pieces for newspaper publication via an intermediary


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