History the Curriculum Hasn't got Time to Cover: How Tutoring can Help Create Historians for Life



Did you know that in Medieval Iceland, some people were judged guilty or innocent through trial by turf, in which they would walk underneath a piece of turf, being declared guilty if it fell on their head? Or that women in the Victorian era used a metal tong device, called a skirt lifter, that was attached to their waist and the bottom of their heavy hoop skirts to give them more freedom when walking? These facts may not be specifically helpful, but facts like these surprise and captivate young students into developing a passion for history and the obscure facts that can be discovered through avid reading in the subject.


Since I was eight years old, I have been enthralled with history. One of my main memories of my primary school history classes was making Tudor houses out of cereal boxes to populate our own Tudor town. As I have gotten older, my passion for history has never changed, but the intensity and formats of the lessons definitely has. Unfortunately, for those that do not find history as interesting as I do, the presentation of these lessons can be boring, uninspiring and misconstrued as a waste of time. The curriculum only has enough space to cover whatever the government, exam boards or the school itself views as important and necessary for students to be considered as ‘informed’ civilians. From what I remember of GCSE and A-Level, topics such as the First and Second World War, American and British Politics, the Troubles in Ireland, the Vietnam War and the Discovery and Migration to the New World were discussed, which although important, are not always the most interesting topics to cover. However, to cover the entirety of the human experience across the world within a two or three year course would be pretty impossible, especially to the depth required to create good quality historians.


Due to these limitations, the history of other continents and time periods are completely ignored and the complex areas that are covered are condensed into the key points for students to repeat in coursework, essays and exam environments. In this situation, teachers are not to blame, as from personal experience, I understand how difficult it is to give the level of attention you want to each student whilst serving a class of 30 who all have different needs, interests, personalities and motivations towards history, or their education in general.


With outside tutoring, greater things are possible. The one-on-one experience that tutoring provides allows for a more personalised and interesting discussion to be had on the topics the students have to cover for school and other areas they are passionate about. Anything is possible when students are able to ask questions they want to ask, and tutors are able to understand the students on a personal level. Does the student have an interest in cooking, but is bored learning about the Second World War? Tutors can create lessons discussing what people were eating in the trenches, at home in the countries involved, and how those changed over time due to the class divides and different government restrictions in each country. Is the student more obsessed with videogames than discussing the migration of individuals to the New World? Create an interactive game, giving the child different options of what they can do in the position of the settlers, and figure out how to traverse the landscape whilst learning about the issues that these people faced along the way.


This is only one way that tutors can change the game for some students. For those that have the motivation to study and want to excel further, alternative and challenging views can help to develop their debating skills and their own historical perspective. History, at its essence, is a discussion of perspectives based on sources, provided by individuals that have their own bias, no matter how much they try to minimise it. As the saying goes “History is written by the winners,” and for some countries, this creates history curriculums that only impact them, or only present them as victors or saviours. Although these perspectives are not the only ones, for students, the need for a discussion of alternative perspectives can elevate their personal understanding and their academic writing to a new level. Tutors can: coordinate debates based on the students’ individual opinions; ask them to debate the position of the devil’s advocate; challenge them on the evidence that formulates their personal perspective, refining the way they argue any perspective they choose. Aside from improving their academic writing, this allows for a student’s academic understanding to flourish, to encourage them to think more critically about the sources and perspective they are digesting and to understand the intentions of the historians they are reading and quoting.


Furthermore, by using tutors who have their own areas of expertise and interest, students can gain the added insight of understanding the historical world at large, as tutors can provide a wider perspective than those curated for the classroom. From personal experience, I understand that history can be taught as a series of key moments that seem isolated from the rest of the world. In some instances, the isolated teaching of historical events has hindered my own understanding of global history, when learning about the history of other countries in later years. Through having extra lessons, students can ascertain a better understanding of the globe, as well as the relationship between countries, and ask questions that would stray too far from the curriculum within a school setting. Examples of this could include: Why weren’t other countries involved in the World Wars?; If they were involved, why is it not commented on more publically?; Why do America and Britain have a “special relationship,” and what do they get from each other that they don’t get from other countries?


Hopefully, from reading this article, you’ve discovered some new points to consider when discussing additional tutoring, and will potentially consider becoming part of the We Make Academics family. To finish off, I shall leave a few more interesting and obscure historical facts that you can use to impress your friends, or that may come in handy in the future for a pub quiz or game show.


Did you know….


… that the Scotsman that smuggled tea plants out of China for the British government to use in India had to disguise himself as a Chinese merchant by wearing a fake moustache, ponytail and Chinese garb, as foreigners were not allowed into China aside from in the port area of Canton (present-day Guangzhou)?


… that many African tribes on the West Coast used cowry shells as currency for a period of time?


… that aluminium was seen as such a rare metal in the 19th century that the French imperial family replaced their silver dinner service with an aluminium one?


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