Opening Minds History And Multicultural Education

Opening Minds History is a proposed approach in the high school History syllabus that supports educators to improve their teaching of critical thinking skills and aims to broaden multicultural knowledge by teaching a small section of the course through the lens of the history of world religions.


Rationale behind Opening Minds

A remarkable finding comes to light in a British Council survey of research into the causes of violent extremism [1]: an education in the Humanities appears to immunise people against hateful influences. A majority of extremists, the report states, appear to come from either Maths or Science backgrounds (engineers and doctors). This extraordinary evidence is supported by research cited in the same article by Martin Rose, that outlines how a number of studies into the backgrounds of jihadis find that a STEM (and/or narrow religious) education is a common feature, while an education in the Humanities is minimised. The article investigates the possible differences in quality between a STEM education and a Humanities one, in the Middle East, Africa and the West, in the hopes of clarifying why the two areas of study might produce different effects.


One of the questions asked is “whether the current teaching of the sciences provides enough of the broad-based education that would give vulnerable students the intellectual tools they need to develop and maintain an open-minded, interrogatory outlook” (Rose:3). The study indicates the importance of a humanities education and highlights the skills of critical and analytical thinking to assist people to make use of a nuanced understanding of historical facts and narratives and includes educating people to appreciate ambiguity and complexity.


Empowering young people with skills that build resilience and protect them against taking up hateful actions and violence have become issues of great concern in recent years in our community. As an educator involved in multicultural education for more than 30 years, I have felt a responsibility to contribute towards building a more tolerant community through educational initiatives.


In multicultural and interfaith work, I found that there is an emphasis placed on sharing cultural or religious “experiences” involving meetings with people from different religious or cultural backgrounds (eg. Together for Humanity and Respect, Understanding, Acceptance) and learning about the inner workings of different religions (Studies of Religion).  These programs provide ground breaking and significant experiences for students which help build relationships and friendship.


However, since using the timeline of religious histories in classrooms, I have realised that we are missing a crucial element in our attempts to grapple with multicultural education. The study of History is where a nation’s children become familiar with their own national narrative or narratives. Cultural values and citizenship pride are imparted through the learning of History. Crucial analytical thinking skills mentioned above are integral to the learning of history and to the development of the capacity to make sense of ambiguity and nuanced viewpoints.


Since we live in a multicultural country, it seems relevant and important to teach multicultural history as an explicit goal within a general history syllabus. In my view, this imparts “multicultural competence” and provides the foundation for all other experiences of intercultural sharing.  "If you know your history, then you would know where you were coming from" says the Buffalo Soldier of the Bob Marley song. Knowing yours and others' histories is what I now call "multicultural competence". Explicit learning of this history makes explicit the importance of having an informed population. Multicultural education could play a greater role in addressing aspects of concern, such as building resilience, social cohesion and harmony in Australia.


I understood the importance of learning through the lens of cultural and religious histories when working with a visual timeline showing the History of different religions and cultures around the globe. This timeline illustrates, at a glance, 4,000 years of history of about 12 mainstream religions.   [2] Trials in the classroom indicated that students began to ask questions related to the contextualised histories and to see connections in time and space between the different religions and historical trends and patterns. There were many “Aha” moments, in which students made new discoveries about the histories, chronologies and relationships of the different religious traditions and their internal historical narratives. Students used the timeline to investigate different types of evidence involved in analysing and thinking critically about their study of the histories.


Opening Minds aims to evaluate whether the research findings mentioned above are supported by teaching multicultural education through the lens of religious and cultural histories, in order to improve intercultural awareness, skills, understanding and friendship in Australia.


[1] Rose M, Immunising the Mind - How can Education Reform Contribute to Neutralising Violent Extremism? British Council 2015