Teaching history for civic engagement – A toolkit to debunk fake news in history classes [Promoted content]

Teaching history for civic engagement – A toolkit to debunk fake news in history classes [Promoted content] | INFBusiness.com

This article is part of our special report What’s new in teaching Europe’s past?.

In his book “L’histoire, pour quoi faire?”, Serge Gruzinksi (2015) highlighted that “the future is a mirror in which the past is reflected”. The French historian defended a history useful for society: a historical science that would allow a dialogue between the past and the present. What is history for? “Let’s start with the present, which assaults us from all sides”, Gruzinski replied.

Cosme J. Gómez Carrasco is Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences Education in the University of Murcia, Spain and Juan Ramón Moreno-Vera is Professor in the University of Murcia, Spain

Historians must not be antiquarians, as the medievalist Marc Bloch explained in his posthumous essay “Apologie por l’histoire ou métier d’historien” (1949). Founder of the “Annales, Histoire, Economie et societé” journal, he indicated that historians must be social scientists. While knowledge of the past is necessary to understand the present, it is futile to try to understand the past without starting from the problems of today.

The present shows us problems that need to be addressed using the intellectual tools provided by historical science. In that sense, the internet and social networks have made information sources widely available to society. At the same time, they have also opened the door for disinformation and fake news. Such has been the impact of this phenomenon that journalists, scientists, and sociologists have often used the term “post-truth”. The debate around this phenomenon started to take center stage during the US presidential elections, and during the “Brexit” referendum. The Washington Post reported that, in his four-year mandate, Donald Trump posted or shared 12 tweets with false or misleading claims a day. The dissemination of fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic, or the attack on the US Capitol in January 2021, has shown the dangers of what the World Health Organization has named “infodemic”.

As the Stanford History Education Group (USA) has pointed out, reliable information is key for healthy democratic societies where citizens participate in public life. If young people consume information without the skills to assess its credibility, without the ability to find out who is behind it, young people could be an easy target for pressure groups that use false information to achieve their electoral goals.

The demonstrated need to develop citizens’ media literacy requires a fundamental rethink of the ways in which we teach. For younger students, dealing daily with technologies, and accessing vast amounts of information, the challenge is to make sense of the endless stream of data, and have sufficient tools to participate responsibly in community affairs by exercising their rights. During the European Innovation Days in History Education organised by the Council of Europe and European Union through the HISTOLAB joint project in March 2023, MEP Sabine Verheyen pointed to the need for education to adapt in order to be able to address these challenges:

There are so many things that can be done today with new technologies that the best knowledge to give young people is that they have to check their sources, that they have to check also with the technologies they can use if a source is a trusted source or not. I think this is a core competence that we need in the future

In the case of history, we have to ask ourselves how it should be taught when students can easily go online and find falsified “evidence”, that supports hate speech. Classroom work in history should, among other things, encourage the simulation of historians’ working methods. Thus, the use of historical sources, in addition to the activity of contrasting testimonies, makes it possible to work on tools to question the sources of information: how, where, why, and by whom they were produced.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, severe cases of disinformation blamed marginalised groups, such as national, religious or cultural minorities for the outbreak of the disease. It is necessary to sensitise the public about such manipulations in order to reduce their efficacy. This can be done by explaining the processes of “othering” that occur in the wake of crises, pandemics and natural disasters, and the extremely destructive consequences they can have for minority groups. All of this must be approached through the prism of multiperspectivity, which takes into account the diverse points of view of different social groups, especially those that are the main targets of hate speech. History teaching can make a valuable contribution to develop such understanding. In this light, the first thematic report of the Council of Europe’s Observatory on History Teaching in Europe precisely looks at how histories of pandemics and natural disasters are taught in the OHTE Member States, taking into account also the issue of minority scapegoating. 

To sum up: through its unique potential to strengthen learners’ critical thinking skills, history teaching can play an important role in addressing the current political, and social challenges facing our societies and especially, the attacks on democracy and democratic rights.

In co-operation with the DICSO research group (University of Murcia), the Council of Europe and the European Union are developing a toolkit on teaching multiperspectivity and recognising manipulation of history. This toolkit will consist of 20 learning-activities that aim to develop competences in the treatment of historical information, and in the recognition of fake news and hate speech from history. The research group in charge of designing, implementing, and evaluating this toolkit is composed of secondary school teachers, and researchers on history and history education. Researchers from Europe (Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, England, Ireland and Sweden) are participating in this design, and researchers from Canada and the US are participating as expert reviewers.

To evaluate the effectiveness of these learning-activities, and the complete toolkit, a teacher training course will be designed so that teachers can implement the activities in their own classrooms.  Data from more than a hundred secondary school classrooms is to be collected, with more than a thousand students expected to participate in the process in order to evaluate how their skills improve in the respective fields of competence.

Source: euractiv.com

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