Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Bi-Polarity in the History Classroom , pp. 8 of 13

By getting students to explain the linkages between developments in Europe and Southeast Asia, teachers would be able to illustrate how the bi-polarity of the ideological and economic competition in Europe had spillover effects and this carried implications for the political developments in Southeast Asia. Students should be able to then explain how the American threat of withholding the Marshall Plan from the Dutch, an action based on its ideological considerations of the Communist threat in Indonesia, was instrumental in forcing the Dutch out of Indonesia and expediting the process of obtaining independence for Sukarno and the rest of the Indonesian nationalists. In this light, students would be able to appreciate the concurrence of historical developments between different geographical areas.

The linkages between developments in Europe and Southeast Asia are also instrumental in getting students to see how the concept of bi-polarity carried wide-ranging implications beyond Europe and could be utilized to enhance their analysis of the decolonization process in Southeast Asia. More importantly, knowledge of chronology would also be useful in helping students understand other historical concepts such as change and continuity, as teachers could then bring in these concepts to further illustrate the relationship between developments. The next section examines how an understanding of bi-polarity could be further enhanced through the use of historical concepts such as change and continuity.

Understanding bi-polarity through change and continuity

Students often perceive change and continuity as developments occurring independently of each other and this is a misconception in itself because the isolated notions of change and continuity can both co-exist at the same time (Seixas and Morton, 2012). The content in the coursebook – usually organized along key events and developments – may have lent credence to the view of change as “watershed events”. In order to help correct misconceptions that changes are intrinsically tied to events, teachers would need to help students see the interactions between change and continuity (Blow, 2011).

The notions of change and continuity are not dormant concepts – they are largely framed by the questions which historians and by extension, history teachers ask in their historical study and curriculum planning (Seixas and Morton, 2012). This in turn entails helping students view the significance of developments in relation to a broader timeline (Blow, 2011). Given students’ tendency to merely describe changes but not understand them, teachers need to help students illustrate the importance of historical patterns so as to get them to understand fully the changes which happen (Foster, 2013). In other words, teachers need to emphasize to students that changes do not necessarily only happen as a manifestation of a watershed event, but rather changes can occur in smaller and more isolated instances. This could be especially relevant for students who perceive the Cold War as the ideological competition between two monolithic blocs and might find it difficult to understand the subtle yet significant developments in the 1970s.

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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