Together with a small team, you have developed the newly introduced discipline “História, Culturas e Democracia” (History, Cultures and Democracy) to be taught by history teachers in Portugal. Why was it needed?

In our country, students at the medium level could finish the subject of history after 9th grade at the age of 14/15. They could not continue studying issues related to civic or history education unless they selected Social Sciences. For 20 years, APH and others wanted to change that.

There was a momentum of trying to launch a new discipline that could bridge this gap and make an additional offer for this group after João Costa became Secretary of State of Education four years ago. At APH, we knew Costa from the joint development of a new history curriculum for Portugal in the years 2016-2018 and perceived him as a person who really thinks “out of the box”. Early this year, I proposed the idea to him of developing something new, and he was interested.

Whose history?
Hot debate about changes in history education in Portugal

Miguel Barros, President of the Portuguese History Teachers’ Association (APH) and organizer of the Iberian EUSTORY history competition in Portugal, is one of the architects of a new historical discipline that has been introduced in Portugal recently. Its release stirred a national debate on Portuguese identity and the essence of the country’s history education.

In an interview with Katja Fausser, Managing Director of EUSTORY, he explains how the release of the new discipline revealed some hot issues of Portuguese society.

Together with a small team, you have developed the newly introduced discipline “História, Culturas e Democracia” (History, Cultures and Democracy) to be taught by history teachers in Portugal. Why was it needed?

In our country, students at the medium level could finish the subject of history after 9th grade at the age of 14/15. They could not continue studying issues related to civic or history education unless they specified on Social Sciences. For 20 years, APH and others wanted to change that.

There was a momentum of trying to launch a new discipline that could bridge this gap and make an additional offer for this group after João Costa became Secretary of State of Education four years ago. At APH, we knew Costa from the joint development of a new history curriculum for Portugal in the years 2016-2018 and perceived him as a person who really thinks “out of the box”. Early this year, I proposed the idea to him of developing something new, and he was interested.

I understood that “thinking out of the box” was important when I realized that the the new discipline does not only bridge a gap in the school system, but at the same time introduces a consequently multi-perspective approach to hot issues in history like identities, colonialism or war crimes.

Together with a small team from CITCEM (a research group from Porto University, composed by Prof. Luís Alberto Marques Alves; Prof. Maria Helena Pinto, Prof. Cláudia Pinto Ribeiro and Prof. Mariana Lagarto) I wanted to include stimulations from international conferences organized by EUROCLIO, but especially by EUSTORY, into the new discipline. Together with colleagues from different countries we have been discussing for decades how history could contribute to civic education and what it means to really face our pasts. History classes can well foster skills like critical thinking that are crucial to fight populism, fake news and hate speech. As historians, we should take our share.

The design of the new discipline caused much public attention and harsh criticism…

The decision was made to publish it two days after the Portuguese national elections on Oct 5th, 2019. The polemic began soon. The start was made by the Observador, a conservative newspaper that invited Jaime Gama, a prominent socialist Portuguese politician who served as Foreign Minister 1983-85, to comment on the new discipline. Gama started the public bashing.

What were the allegations?

Gama stated the program was “militant”, abandoning “everything related to togetherness, integration and national cohesion”. In his eyes the new discipline presented history “without a national focus” and “without respect to Portuguese national symbols”. Our new approach to the past would, from his perspective, lead to segregation, friction and to “minoritarian identities.”

He lamented the new subject did not accept any heroes or Portuguese “strategic objectives”. He feared that the unit on the colonial war, where we state that in history lessons we should listen to anybody involved, no matter who they are and what their opinion is, was opening the doors for claims for compensations.

Can you give another example how the new discipline approaches Portuguese history?

We, for example, prepared a unit on the Battle of Aljubarrota in the 14th century that took place in the context of the 100 Years’ War and was important for Portugal’s independence. Instead of presenting the narrative of a heroic Portuguese victory we provide different contemporary sources: chronicles from a Portuguese, a Castilian and a French perspective. Gama criticizes that in this unit the three sources and positions are presented as equally valid.

Did you expect the criticism?

To be honest, I was a little surprised that the first criticism came from a former Socialist. I did not expect the fear that “the truth” gets lost once the past is not presented by teachers as an iron narrative, neither the fear to allow students to re-read and re-interpreted the past – in a way I had anticipated that this was a consensus of our times already. Nevertheless I am glad about the reactions: They have triggered a fruitful and eye-opening debate about Portuguese identities, about the question who “we” are. We still have to join forces to intensify the debate how we as society want to address the past and how to include different perspectives on historical and current issues in our country.

What is the situation right now?

We were glad when a renowned Portuguese historian, Diogo Ramada Curto, published a response, much welcoming our initiative. He valued the new discipline’s approach as adequate for our days: designing history lessons as laboratories more than as lectures.

We are now starting to present the new subjects to history teachers, hoping that they will initiate the implementation of the new discipline in their schools. First students may be able to enroll for the new discipline after the summer 2020. We hope it will make a contribution to a modern history education in our country that prepares children for the 21st century.

https://eustory.org/headlines-detail-portugal/public-debate-in-portugal

A APH - Associação de Professores de História é uma associação científico‑pedagógica de professores de História de todos os ciclos e graus de ensino.

Contactos Gerais

Telefone

(+351) 217 647 201

Telemóvel

(+351) 964 952 357

Email

secretariado@aph.pt