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Saturday, July 14, 2007

# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Porter  

HISTORY BOYS (AND GIRLS): Yesterday while buying lunch at a motorway diner, I noticed a rather hotly-worded article in the UK's Daily Express. It was about a debate over the new Prime Minister's initiative to change the history curriculum in British schools.

While the specifics weren't clear, it warned that the PM wanted to rearrange school history to play down stress on traditional British heroes, like Churchill, and promote the teaching of the historical background to 'British diversity.' So, for example, slavery and climate change would be introduced into history/social studies.

This article reflected a polemical debate that has raged in Australia, and I believe in parts of the USA. Should school history educate pupils in uncluttered patriotic pride, or should it be an education in multiculturalism and pluralism?

Both sides of this row seem to lose sight of what history at school should really be about. Instead of using the study of the past to programme people with the right 'values', and mass-produce people in a certain political ideology, history should be taught in a way that liberates the intellect and the imagination. People should be equipped to argue about what happened in the past and why, and what it all means.

In other words, individual students should be asked, and encouraged, to draw their own conclusions. If history is, as EH Carr said, the unending dialogue of the present and the past, the study of history should prepare students to take part in that dialogue, rather than giving them banal lessons from the right (teaching them to feel triumphant) or from the left (teaching them to be nice to each other).

Otherwise, students could emerge from school in three different states: 1) thoroughly bored by history, 2) indulging in romantic ancestor-worship, or 3) sneering at the past in Olympian ancestor-loathing.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
In my opinion the real problem about history-teaching in schools - and this was true 10 years ago when I did my GCSEs and I hear from my old history teacher it is still true today - is that modern curriculums contrive to make history as dull as watching paint dry.

On the whole the tenor of school history would be much improved if they were based on Michael Wood documentaries (In Search of the Trojan War, In Search of Shakespeare, Conquistadors, In Search of Myths and Heroes), a few other documentaries that come to mind (Storm from the East, Blood of the Vikings, What the [Romans, Normans, Victorians, Tudors, et al] did for us, The World at War, Battlfield, Battlefield Detectives, Time Team, and so on), and perhaps some good war films (like The Cruel Sea, The Desert Rats, and so on) and work of those. Perhaps a few field trips to Normandy beaches, the WW1/2 battlefields in northern France (all conveniently located in the same rough area), a colliery or other industrial site depending on locatoin (there is a marvellous tin mine in Cornwall, for example), trips to castles and various famous ships. And yes, at the end of it asking the kids what they liked, and what they think, rather than trying to tell them what to think. Perhaps asking them questions about why they think this or that, or perhaps drawing their attention to something else. But above all, to make it fun.
 
IMO, #3 is the goal.
 
Mr. Maskell is absolutely correct. One has to start by creating an interest in history. The old (very old) approaches were actually not bad at all in this respect, jingo or not.
 
"In other words, individual students should be asked, and encouraged, to draw their own conclusions. If history is, as EH Carr said, the unending dialogue of the present and the past, the study of history should prepare students to take part in that dialogue, rather than giving them banal lessons from the right (teaching them to feel triumphant) or from the left (teaching them to be nice to each other)."

The problemm still is who decides what is worth enough to be called history. The problem in the UK, and probably in other countries, is that history has been hijacked by those with a political/social agenda. The subjects have already been revised and it is hard to get back to teaching basic history.

I would recomend reading some of Keith Windschuttle's work on how the Postmodern school has manipulated history.
 
Some of Windschuttles work can be found here Sydney Line
 
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