teaching history

Honest history: we need both the lions and the hunters

Yaw Ofosu-Asare won the 2023 AARE Conference People’s Choice Award for his poster: Redefining design education boundaries in Africa.

In the lingering afterglow of the AARE 2023 Conference, I find myself adrift in a sea of half-remembered conversations, keynote speeches that echo faintly in my mind, and ideas that seemed so clear just days ago. This struggle to recollect, to weave coherent narratives from the scattered threads of memory, leads me to ponder a deeper, more profound question: how much of what we call history is truly accurate? There’s an old African proverb that says, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.” This simple line unravels a complex truth about the stories we’ve been told. History, as it reaches us, is often a tale spun by the victors, the dominant, the ‘hunters.’ It makes me wonder, as I sift through my own cloudy memories of the conference, how many stories have we lost? How many lions have remained silent?

Our history, especially in the West, is a patchwork of narratives, stitched together from memories and records that have survived the test of time. We’ve built our understanding of the world on these narratives, drawing from the well of Greek philosophy, the Renaissance’s bloom, and the moral frameworks of Christianity. But in this grand design, where do the voices that were never heard fit in? What about the philosophies and wisdoms that didn’t find their way into our textbooks?

This reflection takes on greater significance in a country like Australia, steeped in the ethos of multiculturalism, where each culture contributes its unique history and heritage. How do we educate in such a society, acknowledging the full spectrum of human experience, not just the parts that have been traditionally highlighted? It’s a challenging thought, especially when considering that much of non-Western history is passed down orally, often dismissed by those who favour written records.

The stories we’ve leaned on, like those of Aristotle and Plato, were themselves cloaked in narrative and allegory, yet they’ve shaped our understanding of existence, our politics, our very way of life. Today, with social media, we’re witnessing a new chapter where previously unheard voices are finding a platform. African stories, Australian Indigenous narratives, and countless others are finally being shared, challenging our perceptions and inviting us to reconsider the foundations of our knowledge. In this realisation lies a profound question: what happens when we acknowledge that our view of history has been narrow, biased towards a certain type of memory, a particular way of recording events? What if we start valuing stories and oral histories as much as we do scientific evidence and written records?

As I reflect on my time at the conference, the murkiness of memory seems less like a hindrance and more like an invitation—an invitation to acknowledge the complexity and diversity of human experience. It’s an invitation to embrace a more holistic view of history, one that includes the voices of the lions as well as the hunters. In doing so, we might just find a richer, more inclusive narrative that resonates with the true spirit of a multicultural society like Australia. Perhaps then, we can start to redefine what it means to be Australian, not as a singular identity, but as a symphony of voices, each contributing its unique note to the melody of our shared history.

Now, let us turn the lens towards the realms of academia and education. In recent times, there’s been a surge in the use of buzzwords – ‘disruptive,’ ‘transformative,’ ‘inclusive,’ and the like. These terms, while signalling progressive intentions, often raise the question: are they merely a veneer, a fashionable cloak draped over the status quo to appease the ‘woke’ crowd? Or do they genuinely signal a shift in how we approach education and knowledge?

The world of educational research is not immune to trends and fads. The allure of catchy phrases can sometimes overshadow the need for deep, meaningful exploration of issues. It’s crucial to ask ourselves – when we speak of being ‘disruptive’ or ‘transformative,’ are we truly embodying these ideals, or are we just echoing hollow terms? This brings us back to the crux of our reflection on history and memory. If our understanding of the past is limited, skewed by dominant narratives, then how can we hope to build an educational system that is truly inclusive and representative of all voices? The challenge lies not just in acknowledging the gaps and silences in our historical narrative but in actively seeking to fill them.

We live in a world where diversity of thought and experience is richer than ever before. Our classrooms are microcosms of this world, brimming with stories and perspectives waiting to be heard. To educate in a way that honours this diversity means going beyond tokenistic inclusion. It involves a fundamental rethinking of what we teach, how we teach it, and whose voices are amplified in the process. In Australia, this task is particularly vital. As a nation grappling with its identity – torn between its colonial past and its multicultural present – the way we approach education can either reinforce old divides or bridge them. Teachers, educators, and policymakers have the power to shape a narrative of Australia that is inclusive, that celebrates its Indigenous heritage alongside its myriad immigrant stories, and that prepares its youth for a world where being ‘Australian’ is synonymous with being part of a global, interconnected community.

So, as I conclude these reflections – intentionally pushing beyond the 800-word limit to 994, as a small act of ‘disruption’ – I leave you with this thought: in our quest to make education truly transformative, let’s ensure that the change we seek is not just in words, but in actions. Let’s strive to make our classrooms places where history is not just taught, but questioned; where stories are not just heard, but honoured; and where learning is not just about acquiring knowledge, but about understanding the diversity of human experience. Only then can we hope to educate in a way that is truly reflective of the world we live in.

Yaw Ofosu-Asare has a PhD from Southern Cross University, where his research has been instrumental in exploring and challenging the biases and power dynamics within indigenous and decolonizing systems, focusing particularly on culture, knowledge creation, perception, and engagement. He is an associate research fellow at the Sustainability, Environment, and the Arts in Education section within the Faculty of Education at Southern Cross University. He Apart from his research pursuits, Dr. Ofosu-Asare is also passionate about teaching, user interface and experience design, art, digital marketing, and creativity. He is dedicated to influencing individuals and communities positively through the transformative power of education.

Header image is neither from Africa nor from the West. It does, however, apparently have lions and hunters in it.