Teaching History under a Scientific Humanism?

Debates about the teaching of history held by historians at the end of World War II questioned the meaning or even the meaning of European civilization. They found that civilized nations in Europe, with advanced economic and technological development, with schooled children and young people in good health, had been responsible for creating one of the most perverse forms of extermination in the history of mankind, which resulted in the death of millions of people.

Source: The medieval stronghold of TsarevetsVeliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God can be seen on the top of the hill. MrPanyGoff 2021

In the context of political and ideological redefinitions, under the sponsorship of international entities such as Unesco, the dissemination of a teaching of “History for peace” was proposed and debates were started on the fundamentals that would serve as a foundation for a scaled-up curriculum renewal International. Some principles of the Humanities curricula were taken up and, in France in particular, an education based on the scientific Humanities started to be valued.

The organization of the new curricula aimed to consolidate school subjects constituted by a combination articulated by “objectives, contents, methods and assessment” (Chervel, 1990, p.207). For each discipline, especially those based on the reference sciences, a corpus of specific knowledge was constituted, organized by themes relevant to different groups of students, of different ages, but aimed at meeting general and particular educational objectives in the scientific area. and organized under established methods to develop intellectual training and learning capable of being disseminated at all levels of education.

The teaching of history became fundamental to rethink humanistic culture under a new conception of scientific training in which historical knowledge was inserted “in a perspective not limited to the past that paralyzes, but as an expression of a future that liberates” (Garin , 1968, p.251). In Brazil, with the creation of history courses in university centers, from the 1950s onwards, the concern with the training of teachers that would provide coexistence with research developed by the Faculties of Philosophy and Human Sciences and that should support the review of contents for teaching different school subjects. For university history professors, it would be essential to review, above all, the teaching of the history of Brazil, which should incorporate the new researches that were multiplying at that time.

But in addition to reviewing the contents, proposals for new teaching methods were also initiated to be introduced in public secondary schools, which multiplied and transformed with the presence of new social groups. There was a concern to build projects that would articulate, therefore, a quantitative expansion combined with a qualitative one to make it possible to shift instructional methods to learning methods, and experimental schools were created in which it was essential to consolidate an education that surpassed the limits of the “world of instruction” and if he returned to the “world of study”.

In this sense, the proposals for the reformulation of teaching methods were concerned with overcoming the catechetical method to enable an intellectual formation through which investigation would be an integral part of school knowledge (Hamilton, 2001). For the teaching of History it meant “putting aside” the questionnaires and dissertations that repeated, as faithfully as possible, texts from textbooks, and stimulating students with narratives based on the assumption of “centers of interest”. In secondary schools, however, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, there was the problem of redefining the discipline’s objectives.

History remained as a propaedeutic teaching with content selected to meet the entrance exams and that limited changes in content and methods. The central objectives of History elaborated by the public policies of the populist democratization period should be limited to the dissemination of the ideals of “Brazilian racial democracy”: the peaceful form of the abolition of slaves, the importance of the Jesuits in the pacification of the indigenous people in the colonization phase, the contributions of Africans and Indians to Brazilian culture…

The proposal for the teaching of History was, then, to contribute to solving the State-people-nation equation under a history that should maintain the assumptions of European civilization and this project served as a confrontation with the various experiences of renovation of experimental schools. 13 The renewal of the teaching of History, especially in Brazil, beginning in the 1960s, had to wait for the 1980s to be carried out, since History was a discipline especially targeted by the dictatorial military regime.

The controversy surrounding the New History of Brazil, a didactic collection produced by historians from the Instituto Superior e Estudos Brasileiros (Iseb), with the support of the Ministry of Education and Culture, launched in early 1964, was an exemplary episode of the level of repression that the political regime exerted on Education, in particular, on the renewal of the teaching of History. The New History of Brazil, under the coordination of Nelson Werneck Sodré, then head of the Department of History at Iseb, was a collective work by recently graduated professors from the History Center of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Brazil and

[…] Its origin – as well as that of all the others that make up this collection – is linked to the already unpostponable attempt to reformulate, in essence and methods, the study and teaching of our history. In recent times, many have become aware that the history of Brazil, traditionally conceived and communicated, especially in didactic literature, far from revealing the true bases of the formation process of our country, has been serving, on the contrary, as an instrument of brakes and detours, an obstacle to its own unfolding. It was within such a reformulating perspective that the new history collection emerged.

[…] It remains to be hoped from professors and students that a new reflection on the data that composes our history will immediately take place that action capable of giving the Brazilian people the Brazil they really long for. (Rufino et al. 1965, Presentation)

The result of the publication by the Ministry of Education in March 1964 was a violent repression after April 1 by the “new government”, which invaded the Iseb, opened the Military Police Inquiry (IPM) by which it placed the agreement as an example of corruption and subversion, seized books across the country and arrested and subjected their authors to torture. For Nelson Werneck Sodré, the onslaught on the New History of Brazil was aimed at the Ministry of Education and Culture and was

[…] within those meticulously assembled and developed plans, harvested as a pretext. The newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo alone dedicated five virulent editorials to the collection of monographs. Of course, in these editorials, their texts were not analyzed, but they used the well-known and routine Nazi technique of repeating the lie so many times that it ends up passing for the truth. (Sodré et al., 1993, p.75).

Following the public policies of the dictatorial regime, History and Geography were replaced by Social Studies, and as a consequence new Short Degree courses were created which, among other characteristics, limited teacher education, without contact with historiographic research and updates. As a result of the educational problems that multiplied under the military regime, the return of History as a discipline was a challenge that teachers from teaching networks and universities still face today.

From 1980 onwards, new history curricula were proposed for elementary and high schools, but under new conditions regarding the service of a differentiated school audience, with complex experiences in always precarious classrooms and teachers in constant struggle to improve conditions. of work and salary. It was urgent to introduce new content that stimulated students while there was a need for proposals that incorporated the new production of socio-cultural history and the world of work.

The curricula produced after the 1996 Law of Guidelines and Bases, as well as the proposals for the 1998 National Curriculum Parameters (PCN – Brazil, 1998) were extended to all levels of education and school systems, including schools in indigenous and quilombola communities . It appears that there were significant changes due to the introduction of new historical contents based on their commitment to the formation of a democratic citizenship.

In an unprecedented way, as a result of the struggles of social movements, the History of Africa and Afro-Brazilian cultures and the History of the indigenous peoples were introduced through laws 10,639/03 and 11,645/08, which are in the process of integration in curricula that are still submitted to the Eurocentric logic, but which announce a political and cultural formation for the exercise of social citizenship with a view to an unprejudiced and democratic coexistence:

[…] in the teaching of history, the myth of Clio, the muse of history who has the stylus of writing in one hand and the trumpet of fame in the other, seems to express in one of its most challenging ways. But this construction of classical culture, faithful to the tradition of Greco-Latin Antiquity, which has guided our investigative gaze, is not the only form of representation of our office. Screams in many African societies, for example, are also references with regard to storytelling, as guardians of memory; as well as shamans or shamans are also references in this aspect in many indigenous societies here in Brazil. (Pereira; Monteiro, 2013, p.8)

The old historical landmarks are being revised, even if gradually, and a history of Antiquity can be introduced by indigenous societies, by the diversity of an economic history of agriculture or by a social history by slave labor creating the wealth that sustains the capitalist system of mercantilism to neoliberalism, from a history of societies constituted before the appearance of writing, from the formation of a mixed American civilization.

The constitution of this new proposal for History, as well as for other disciplines, however, has taken place under new clashes and confrontations with the new policy established after 2016, but already visible in the curricula of states and municipalities in the first decade of the 21st century. Some of the current history curricula, such as in São Paulo do Escola – a curricular proposal for the State implemented in 2008, indicate a return to certain concepts and make it clearer that the objective of history is the study of the time of capitalism (Proposal State of São Paulo curriculum: History).

The history of the Ancient Age maintains the conception of backward society vs. modern society, medieval history, limited to a configuration of feudalism in Christianity, is only interested in its decline, which favors the advent of the bourgeoisie and mercantile capitalism, and the Modern Age and Contemporary are consolidated by the triumph of capitalism in its worldwide expansion, by its industrial revolutions and by world wars. And the history of Brazil and other countries peripheral to capitalism remain unimportant as relevant content.

The construction of “a common national curricular base” (BNCC), foreseen by the 1996 LDB, in the process of being finalized, has been carried out in an unprecedented way, with priority given to international interlocutors and, internally, with an almost total exclusion of universities, he delegated its elaboration to business managers whose principles are based on the premises of the World Bank.

Under this policy, Brazilian curricula are subject to an external evaluation, which determines contents and methods under an international model. A first consequence of this externally imposed model resides in the loss of teachers’ power in the organization of their classes, as well as their power to create, methodological adaptations and even to choose teaching materials in the face of an educational reality characterized by a huge cultural and socioeconomic differentiation in the evening courses, Youth and Adult Education rooms…

The option of the Brazilian educational policy has raised questions about the conception of school knowledge and about the role of teachers in the current pedagogical model in which teaching methods tend to a technological submission controlled by electronic media. The BNCC aims for a “modernization” of school contents and methods based on the new experiences of the media generation, of the individualism of the young consumer citizen whose dream is to integrate into the globalized capitalist system that makes him dependent on the continuous acquisition of new technologies . In this context, history curricula can be transformed again into curricula aimed at spreading a religiosity, which currently corresponds to the introjection of capitalism as a religion, as Max Weber (1967) and Walter Benjamin (2013) had already announced.

Under current proposals, at the international level, many of the humanist assumptions are being relegated and implicitly considered retrograde. According to the projects of modern capitalism, education must be exclusively submitted to the constitution of identities that are part of the globalized world, with the total dilution of differences. And under this concept of “all equal” it becomes possible to establish forms of international assessment with pretensions of control over content, methods on an international scale. Thus, the formation of future generations must necessarily be based on electronic learning that requires a pedagogical reorganization so that human capital can be raised to the status of financial capital.

Controlling curricula by the logic of the market is, therefore, strategic and provides control over the present and future time of students. The evaluation of teaching becomes a task external to the classroom to be carried out through mostly technological teaching materials also produced by international companies and by evaluation systems that limit the performance and power of teachers. This perspective indicates a return to catechetical instructional methods since it becomes essential to systematically train students so that they can successfully answer the multiple-choice tests. At the end of some reflections on the trajectory of History teaching between the 16th century and the present day, it is worth asking: how to situate the teaching of History in a technicist curriculum in comparison with a curriculum of the scientific humanities or simply humanist?


CHERVEL, A. História das disciplinas escolares. Teoria & Educação, Porto Alegre, n.2, p.177-229, 1990.

GARIN, E. L’éducation de l’homme moderne. La pédagogie de la Renaissance (1400- 1600). Paris: Fayard, 1968.

HAMILTON, D. A virada instrucional. Da dialética à didática. Texto de trabalho.

RUFINO, J. et al. História nova do Brasil. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1965.

SODRÉ, N W. et al. História Nova do Brasil (1963-1993). São Paulo: Loyola; Editora Giordano Ltda, 1993.

PEREIRA, A.; MONTEIRO, A. M. (Org.) Ensino de História e culturas Afro-brasileiras e indígenas. Rio de Janeiro: Pallas, 2013.

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