Schools and History: A Literal Take on ‘History Beyond the Classroom’

In a very literal sense, the name of this subject – ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ – has proven to be platform on which my project has been both conceptualised around, and oriented upon. My community engagement over this semester has been with Cammeraygal High School, a comprehensive, co-educational government high school established on Sydney’s Lower North Shore in 2015.
What is History? Who, and what, is history for?’ were the questions which opened our discussions in Week 1 of this semester, and it is, somewhat fittingly, the change in my responses to these questions which reveal the significant learning this unit has forced me to undertake.
Indeed, thirteen weeks ago, I was debating several questions: What could be ‘historical’ about a school currently filled with 100 12 year-olds? Can a place that has only been in existence for ten months construct a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history? Would placing labels of ‘heritage’ and ‘legacy’ at this point of its story be artificial, forced, even contrived? What sorts of stories from its opening year could – or would – be worth telling and memorialising?
These questions have, in a sense, been dispelled as I’ve gone throughout the semester: firstly, as a result of the process of engaging with the school, its community, and its story; and secondly, because this unit has taught me to re-imagine the ‘boundaries’ I had put onto the historical discipline. My project has shaped into an examination of how the concepts of place, history, and community collide in the construction, access, use, and redefinition of public spaces. It seeks to situate this very early – and constantly developing – history of Cammeraygal High School within a broader reflection on the centrality of physical space in the construction of historical identities. It will, moreover, make the argument that a sense of history (or what might academically be referred to as a ‘historical consciousness’) has been present in the very conception of this school, and underscores and motivates the development of its vision and imagination.
As we near the conclusion of this semester, above all, I have been forced to realise the dynamic, multiplicitous, and meaningful place from which history originates. If anything, my initial concerns about whether my project could unearth a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history revealed a prejudiced view of what constituted a ‘significant’ account of the past. And as I’ve realised through the people and stories I have had the privilege of encountering, the telling of history originates from a place of generosity and a desire to have stories and memories preserved. That is not to say that history isn’t conflicting and contested – because it often is – but the spirit in which history has been offered and shared with me this semester has showed me its importance and its life beyond both the university and high-school classrooms.