The following notes comment on this extract from The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School.
58 Teachers should guide the students' work in such a way that they will be able to discover a religious dimension in the world of human history. As a preliminary, they should be encouraged to develop a taste for historical truth, and therefore to realize the need to look critically at texts and curricula which, at times, are imposed by a government or distorted by the ideology of the author. The next step is to help students see history as something real: the drama of human grandeur and human misery.(52)
From these two paragraphs in the Vatican document I would extract the following aims. The teaching of history should develop:
- a taste for history (love, appreciation)
- an ability to think critically about it
- a sense of how history is a human drama
- an awareness of the moral dimension of this drama
- an ability to set the moral issues in the context of salvation history
The goal is “to guide the students' work in such a way that they will be able to discover a religious dimension in the world of human history” – because only then will history begin to make sense, to reveal its underlying pattern and dynamic.
There are two stages in achieving this:
1. “As a preliminary, they should be encouraged to develop a taste for historical truth, and therefore to realize the need to look critically at texts and curricula.” This means to study the data and develop the ability to form and criticise historical accounts and explanations – but before that to begin to appreciate the beauty of history, the particular thrill and pleasure in discovering what has happened in the past and how it connects with the present. One might start by playing around with ways of describing one’s own life, or compare (distorted) newspaper accounts of recent events, in order to develop this “taste’ for truth.
2. “The next step is to help students see history as something real: the drama of human grandeur and human misery.” Something real, in other words not simply a projection of our own interpretations or an academic game, but a drama that affects real people and in which we ourselves are implicated and involved. This is the more conscious appropriation and flowering of that acquired “taste for historical truth” that has already begun to dawn through the process of making interesting discoveries about the past. To see history in terms of the “human drama” is to go deeper than merely seeing it as having shaped the world around us (the institutions, the laws, the architecture, the customs, that would otherwise appear arbitrary or “random”). But human drama involves questions of good and evil, of moral judgment – even if these are sometimes left at the level of questions and never resolved in the form of definitive answers.
The protagonist of history is the human person, who projects onto the world, on a larger scale, the good and the evil that is within each individual. History is, then, a monumental struggle between these two fundamental realities,(53) and is subject to moral judgments. But such judgments must always be made with understanding.
The implication is that in order to understand the moral struggle in its context we need to “see history as a whole”, because the very next paragraph reads as follows:
59 To this end, the teacher should help students to see history as a whole. Looking at the grand picture, they will see the development of civilizations, and learn about progress in such things as economic development, human freedom, and international cooperation. Realizing this can help to offset the disgust that comes from learning about the darker side of human history. But even this is not the whole story. When they are ready to appreciate it, students can be invited to reflect on the fact that this human struggle takes place within the divine history of universal salvation. At this moment, the religious dimension of history begins to shine forth in all its luminous grandeur.(54)
To “see history as a whole”, as a grand narrative (that is, precisely in the way rejected by postmodernism), we need to understand it as the projection of the drama of the human heart. In other words our understanding of history depends on our moral anthropology. But the moral level too needs to be transcended or integrated within the horizon of the spiritual. The human moral drama has an even deeper significance when related to the drama of “salvation”, the fall and redemption of the human race, with the varied human attempts – including the misguided ones – to overcome the effects of the fall.
The starting point has to be some way of engaging the imagination. First-hand experience of other places and cultures would help to gain some perspective on our own – failing that, exposure via music, film, visiting speakers, fiction. Once we can see our own cultural situation as non-definitive, curiosity can arise as to how and why it got this way.