The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?

The Problem

The notion of linking Venice to Singapore is not new. As Singapore reaches 50 years old, books have appeared to question the city-state’s survival or its next phase. In the social studies textbook of Singapore, the chapter of Venice in which students have been studying for more than a decade is about to be phased out from 2016. Has the chapter achieve its aim of making students learn some lessons of survival from Venice? Are there alternative ways to help the students discuss the developments of Venice? This paper will venture to make an attempt of last voyage to see what can be gleaned from a city which has survived a thousand years.

The first question and issue to deal with must be: can lessons of history be learnt? And then, can lessons be learnt from Venice by Singapore? “Learning lessons from history” has almost become a cliché. Some thought the derivation of these was the only utility of history. Figuratively speaking, “those who were doomed to repeat history failed to learn from it” (rendition from Winston Churchill). From the different perspectives (realist, Dawinian, biologist), peoples or civilisations which do not learn their lessons very well became extinct in history. In truth, practitioners of military history know that lessons from battle were only learnt after simulating the various alternative scenarios or having pondered deeply. If no two situations were ever alike in history, it is not surprising that the key to diffusing a new situation is sometimes linked with being able to anticipate or predict it. At the other end of the extreme, Michael Howard in his inaugural Regius Professor Chair lecture in 1981 at Oxford University (entitled “Lessons of history”) questioned the potentiality of learning lessons from history. While he accedes there might be a need for history to be more ‘relevant’ and ‘civic conscious’, one needs to be very careful and more open (or ignorant). Being ‘ignorant’, according to Howard, means not to be constrained by any type of parochialism. Howard also cautions against judging the ‘usefulness’ of histories and events in terms of their contemporary-ness; ‘lessons’ can come from all periods and geographical areas in history. In this direction, the topic of Venice in the Singapore social studies textbook can offer insightful lessons if issues in both societies and their overlap (or lack of) is discussed in a more open and in-depth manner (Howard, 1992).

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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