So that History won’t be “history”
Posted October 9, 2008on:
A hesistant “interesting” sums up about seventy percent of the responses I get when I tell Indonesians that my majors are History and Political Science. For them, “interesting” is not always postive and thus, not always…interesting. Seeing that the pursuit of History as either a field of study or a career is rare in Indonesia, that reaction is not surprising. The following article aims to explain this lack of interest. At the same time, it acknowledges that undertaking this field in Indonesia is far from easy. This hinders further studies on the subject, and yet its importance cannot be emphasized enough. So we come to a conundrum.
Through years of questioning and observation, I can attribute this diminishing interest to at least two factors: teaching methods that foster unfavorable attitudes towards the subject, and the limited and dim career opportunities. There may very well be others, but these are ones I can pinpoint from my own experience.
To those who do not have a natural interest in a subject, the manner in which a class is taught is significant in determining a student’s outlook towards it. It is only understandable that the amount of facts that has to be memorized can cause one to dread class. Combine force-fed information with monotonous lectures that scream boredom? Tiresome.
For Indonesian students, history class and history may be considered tedious and dull purely because of these teaching methods. In contrast, a history class in the USA may use visual aids (movies, pictures, powerpoint slides) and even incorporate field trips to draw students in. Essays, debates, and discussions encourage students to structure their thoughts and challenge existing ideas. This is not to say that all history classes in the States take on this dynamic approach, it just happens more often. As a result, information is more easily absorbed and remembered. History class may even be fun. Clearly, it would be nice if the objectives of the history class go beyond memorizing dates, names and information. Teachers should aim for bigger goals such as cultivating students interest in the world or pride in their own country.
Regarding limited and dim career opportunities, being a historian or a professor seems to be the most obvious career choices. I have lost count the number of times people have assumed me to be either of those in the future. Let us be frank, they are less than desireable jobs in Indonesia. Not only are the related number of jobs minute, the salaries are not sustaining. Not all of us are fortunate enough to pursue a degree that may lead to dismal careers – even if we are passionate about it.
There are two silver linings to this. Firstly, there is the increasingly common reality that one’s graduate degree – not the undergraduate degree – will determine your career. This gives students the opportunity to pursue their interest first, then decide on a Masters degree related to their future career. Even I am constantly reminded of this fact by graduate students, professors and young professionals.
Secondly, even with a History major, one can find jobs in other fields. Business, finance, and government are such fields that employ those with a History degree. This is again supported by the idea that one’s undergraduate degree does not necessarily determine one’s career. Knowing this, readers may question, why waste time pursuing two different degrees when it is possible to specialize in one? Thus the other reason why I choose to pursue the social studies.
Interest is not the only reason why I take History. There are pros to the degree that are often forgotten. With History, students are forced to develop essential and yet basic skills that other majors may not: the ability to read, the ability to write, and the ability to analyze. In order to do well, it is compulsory for students to be able to scour and digest information from numerous sources, and present them in an orderly form of thought. For a country like the US in which experts of these areas are highly sought after, a History major is a good bet for covering the basics. Once they are taken care of, the handling of new information and becomes much easier. Therefore, employers do not avoid recruiting graduates from the social studies, even if the job may differ from the field of study.
It appears that the problem in Indonesia can be traced to the education system as well as ourselves. Current teaching methods fail to draw the students in, and it has become widespread for youths to consider history as a boring subject. History is crucial not only because it explains how events have changed through time or because it tells of the development of the world. It allows people to learn from the past and possibly even predict future circumstances.
Furthermore, students benefit from it by perfecting their reading, writing and analysis. However, with the difficulty of finding careers, how can one expect the interest and pursuance to rise? To put it simply, it would be difficult without personal motivation and systematic change. Fostering interest should be the first step – then we can move on from there.