Monday, 7 November 2011

Poor marks for history

Silence. Sit up straight at the back. Yes, I mean you. Now I've got your attention, open your history book.
If you have one. Because history teaching in the UK seems to have got seriously lost and the subject is in serious trouble.
What I remember from my time at school is lessons that were deadly dull, but at least we learned a few facts. The Romans, 1066, a Hundred Years War that didn't last 100 years and Queen Victoria as Empress of the globe's pink bits.
More recently history teaching has been squashed under a suffocating duvet of political correctness. Add in a severe attack of cultural cringe and the patient is looking terminal.
There's no Island Nation story because the curriculum hops about from one period to another and British expansionism is airbrushed out. So kids end up knowing a bit about the Romans, a fact or two about the Tudors and that Victorian children worked down mines and got whacked a lot, but have no idea which period came first.
Pupils don't learn about big events, instead they're asked to empathise with the people of the past. In practice that seems to mean that they visit a museum where someone dressed up as a Victorian schoolmarm shouts and waves a cane to convince them that 19th Century Britain was a very scary place to be (forget all the great things achieved during Victoria's reign).
It's good news that the government is taking the problem seriously enough to have a review of the way history is taught. But the heat generated by the debate doesn't suggest that things are going to get any better soon.

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