Teaching historical time, causation and empathy in the senior primary school : a theoretical and empirical study.
The writer is of the opinion that the teaching of history is a skilled, complex and challenging activity which demands a highly professional approach. History teaching should enable children to identify and acquire certain skills and perspectives that support and develop their interest in and knowledge of the past. There has been some concern that history may not be an appropriate school subject for children and young adolescents because it requires a level of cognitive development that they may not yet have attained. Fortunately, there is a substantial body of research that addresses this question. Most of it is grounded in Piagetian theory and is concerned with the development of logical thinking in history learning (Downey and Levstik 1988:338). The writer believes that sophisticated and potentially difficult concepts like historical time, cause and effect and empathy are capable of being explained and discussed at a level that most pupils can grasp. The most frequently quoted statement of Jerome Bruner lends support to this view: "Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development" (1977:3). This research focused on the three pivotal concepts of historical time, cause and effect and empathy. The purpose of the empirical study was to establish how significant a role these concepts play in the teaching and learning of history at the senior primary level. The study was undertaken by means of the illuminative method of research within the context of the ethnographic tradition. The writer observed and described the teaching of history in seven schools in the Durban area. Ten lessons were given by Fourth Year students from a college of education and five were taught by senior primary teachers. The depth of teaching experience in this group ranged between one year and twenty. In most of the lessons, content predominated over the reinforcing of concepts. Teachers stated openly that they experienced difficulty in teaching the concepts of historical time and cause and effect at senior primary level. This was borne out by the pupils' oral and written responses. However, most teachers did encourage pupils to empathise with the subject matter. The results of this research suggest that there is a need to heighten teachers' awareness of the centrality of the concepts of historical time, cause and effect and empathy if the teaching of history at senior primary level is to become more effective.