End of history?

Bureaucrat and commentator on the contemporary scene, Tissa Devendra, on Monday in an article in The Island reminded us of the sad and regrettable ‘murder’ of Sri Lanka’s history.

He pointed out that about 30 years ago, panjandrums of the Education Ministry committed this ghastly murder by throwing out the subject of history from the school syllabus and substituting it with what he aptly calls ‘wishy- washy social studies’. It reminds us that generations of Sri Lankans under the age of 35 years have no inkling — or only a smattering — of the history of this land and its people, a history which any nation can be justly proud of. A nation that knows not its history, the ways in which their ancestors lived, their culture and to whom these magnificent monuments left behind are just inanimate granite blocks, is indeed a nation to be pitied.

The reasons for this academic genocide are not clear except that the seventies saw the panjandrums of the Education Ministry taking upon themselves to bring about what they termed ‘radical reforms’ in education that ended in disaster. The mathematics taught down the ages and which enabled Man to land on the moon in 1969 was not good enough, and they introduced what was called New Maths. It drove teachers and students nuts and there was a hasty return to the old mathematics. The teaching of English grammar, it was said, was not essential and today we find teachers of English who cannot tell the subject from the predicate in a sentence.

Devendra quotes well known historian Lorna Devaraja in an article titled: ‘Debunking Sri Lanka’s History’ where she had said: ‘The result is that generations of students have come out of school with no knowledge of Sri Lanka’s ancient traditions, let alone that of the rest of the world. With no understanding of the past, youth have no vision of the future and live in an impoverished uncertain present’.

History means different things to different people. Some use it for their own advantage. Bertrand Russell, the outstanding British philosopher, jocularly defined English history as ‘Hiss—Tory’. In the context of the ongoing conflagration in this country, there are interested parties who will not only want to hiss when our history is recalled but want to obliterate it. Some ‘historians’, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, it is said, are already in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing the history of Sri Lanka.

It will be recalled that some of these ‘historians’ and ‘sociologists’ wanted to splatter the oldest recorded history of any nation, the Mahavamsa, with the blood of the 1983 riots saying that it claimed the Sinhalese to be the custodians of Buddhism. References in other ancient texts to a Chosen Race and its impact on history to date were conveniently forgotten.

We are informed that the present system of education provides a student with a smattering of history till the GCE - O and only thereafter can a student take to studying history as a subject. Under the system that prevailed in the fifties and sixties, students from Grade 1— immediately after kindergarten — were introduced to Ceylon and World History commencing from Vijaya, Veddahs and the Pyramids of Egypt and it was continued till Grade Eight to modern times. With the tremendous rat race on, it is quite apparent that students will not gain any significant knowledge of history on Sri Lanka or the world because they will be concentrating on subjects that will enable to get lucrative jobs.

With the cult of the coin becoming the religion of the learned professions and even those like journalism, arts, culture and subjects like history will be confined to the dustbin.

Some of those who keep agitating for a multi-racial and multi-religious multi-lingual nation may think that abolition or murder of history will be best to bring about a well hybridised nation. But history itself demonstrates the falsity of this presumption.

Great nations have great histories. If this nation is to rise again, it has to be built on the solid bed rock of its history. Schools should begin teaching the history of all races and religions of this nation once again. The end of history could well be the end of the nation.

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