SIMON SCHAMA spoke at the Hay Festival #Hay13 and slammed Gove's reforms to the history curriculum as "1066 & All That without the jokes". It was a call to arms for history teachers to confront Gove's "insulting and offensive" attitude over the draft history curriculum changes, because of the disastrous impact they would have, if implemented, for history teachers and students, and to rise up and "tell Michael Gove what you think of it". A FULL TRANSCRIPT of the Schama event at Hay is available here (please scroll down in this window) see below!
The history curriculum debate has been given air time and prime news space numerous times over the past months in response to Michael Gove's plans to make changes to the current curriculum, announced on 7th February 2013.
This is indicative of the concern of history teachers in schools and universities, and their successful campaign to raise the profile of the issues at stake. Museum professionals have also joined the discussion about how the proposed changes may impact their role & use of collections for supporting the history curriculum.
If you want to refer back to the Gove document on the proposed changes to subjects in the curriculum, where you will find the section on the history curriculum on the pdf from page 165 onwards: https://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf
In this section, you will find txts from Cannadine, Evans, History Assoc; plus debates on BBC TV, and Radio: Full txts not always available and sometimes behind paywalls, but DRAFT TRANSCRIPTIONS wherever possible, and also you can find links to Guardian, other Blogs, transcription of Times articles by Aaronovitch, Radio and TV discussions, including the spat between Starkey & Evans from Sunday 3rd March on BBC1 with Andrew Neil. Also a full transcription of the Moral Maze R4 debate. The latest content is a transcription from historyworks of the excellent interview on April 25th on BBC Radio 3 with Simon Schama about Dead Certainties & his views on the National Curriculum proposals, also the debate on BBC Radio 3's NIGHTWAVES of 2nd April, foregrounding an interview with David Cannadine, followed by a debate with Stephen Drew, Sheila Lawlah, Dinah Birch, and Tristram Hunt, MP.
Please browse through the content below, and please credit historyworks if you use one of our broadcast transcriptions.
SIMON SCHAMA SPEAKING AT THE HAY FESTIVAL 30TH MAY 2013 #Hay13
Please note that Simon Schama was speaking in a huge rush of energy and dynamism, so when you read the text below you'll have to imagine Simon pacing about and interacting with the audience, without a lot of punctuation, and sometimes small segues that are not well conveyed in a transcript, when they make total sense when spoken as parenthesis!
Please do use this transcription for discussions and quotations, especially #historyteacher, and #histed, and all that is asked is that you acknowledge that this website content is creative commons rather than copyright, so you credit @historyworkstv
Simon Schama (with thanks to Hay Festival Wire for sharing the sound files for this transcription)
Hay Festival 30/05/2013 4.30pm/5.30pm
My heroes, history teachers! Welcome! I’m just your warm-up act and your enabler today!
There are lots and lots of you, stand-up wherever you are – I’ve always wanted teachers to stand-up. [APPLAUSE] The rest of you have to do the exam before we let you out of here… [LAUGHTER]
Teachers, I’m one of you actually (in my minor function at Columbia University in New York), and you know that history is a serious matter, never more so than perhaps now. It’s not just a stroll down memory lane and it’s not Downton Abbey, it’s Westminster Abbey or Tintern Abbey. It’s not just the romance of bustles and butlers. It counts, it matters, and it effects how we feel about each other as a connected family of memory.
It’s very appropriate we’re [at the Hay Festival] having this conversation on the border of England and Wales. I hope some of you will actually talk in a bit, or vent as this is an opportunity for venting – venting actually sounds like a Welsh word- it probably isn’t - but maybe we’ll turn it into one!
History matters perhaps now more than ever because we’re at that moment in our country’s history where we’re not quite sure where the borders of our country are and what connects and what might disconnect us. We’re at the moment where there’s a kind of fierce political movement inside England, which is all about turning its back on Europe (UKIP).
We’re at the moment when it’s possible that Scotland might become an independent country once more. It’s interesting to me that in the checklist of Michael Gove’s desiderata for things that must be known, the Act of Union whereby Scotland (in a kind of shamefully corrupted way) became part of the Union is not one of the necessary topics.
We’re also at a time when issues of allegiance are very distressing. We’re faced constantly with the issue of whether or not fanatical religious ideology should overcome and overturn any other bonds of the allegiance of memory and the stories that we share together.
So history is not just a stroll down memory lane, as all of you fantastic teachers know. It’s an important thing and it’s something that’s not just simply the antique furniture polish that covers our culture. It will determine for our children whether we do feel connected as a country. It’s important that the Royal family does what it does, it’s important that we felt as good as we seemed to have felt last year about the Olympic Games and the Jubilee.
There has to be more than that and it has to be a living thing. Our kids have to know and probably all you kids out there do know already why the Magna Carta (coming up for its 800th anniversary) made a difference, not just to England but to the world. A difference which turned out to be in some places, but not in others, happily irreversible.
[The teaching of history in our schools] is an important issue and with this in mind, about two and a half years ago I was weirdly volunteered by Michael Gove, (who in many ways I admire and respect), to not be what was preposterously called History Tzar – I’m not a Tzar, - Jews feel very funny about being the Tzar of anything if you’re on the receiving end of Tzarishness. But [I was asked] to say a word or two about how the national curriculum might be looked at once again.
I was, along with other people, concerned a bit about what seemed to be the disconnectedness of history teaching in schools, not because the national curriculum, as relatively recently revised and reconstructed, did not provide for a coherent continuous chronology. The importance of the aim [for a continuous chronology] is announced yet again in the rubric to the most recent suggestions set out in Michael Gove’s document (in February of this year).
Because those of you who are history teachers know that in theory you look at the [present] national curriculum and it does take you through - the Middle Ages, Early Modern European period - and it talks about the relationship of Royal power, Parliament and the Industrial Revolution, - but in practice it works out rather differently.
It wasn’t long before I discovered what really counted and what made it very difficult to actually fulfill or realise the aim of coherent and continuous chronology, (and of infrastructural things that have absolutely nothing to do with the ostensible content or subject guidelines of the national curriculum) - namely not enough hours of teaching, -not enough specialist educated history teachers, - and for my part the unsatisfactory situation by which it is possible to finish an education of history - at the age of fourteen!
There are some huge differences between what independent schools are able to offer by way of number of hours, (amount of classroom time), and what state schools and academies could or are prepared to offer – now that’s barely scratched the surface [of where the issues are that we need to talk about] I hope I have some primary school teachers here that can talk about the particular difficulties they face. With this in mind, there were these hard-core knotty infrastructural problems that got in the way of the old national curriculum delivering on what it had promised.
I went to sit in classrooms and I listened to what teachers had to say - and very quickly I found how brilliantly and heroically many of you actually manage to enrich the lives of the students - while having to deal with these really fierce constraints of time. The issue of the constraints of time [are real] – I know we’re in a difficult period in terms of the job market, economic skills, and the practical skills that we want our kids to actually acquire.
The non-functional subjects are inevitably going to be squeezed a bit. I know also, because look at all of you here, that many of you are passionate about giving our kids a sense of the kind of country or countries to which they belong. As I say, I was really incredibly impressed when I went to sit down with kids.
I went to Docklands Primary School for example, where a very limited number of the children had parents for whom English was a first language and yet these very little kids were doing a unit about Queen Victoria’s childhood and the process by which she became Queen. It was entrancing and they were completely into it and that was rather wonderful.
I went to Grey Coat Hospital School in Westminster, a school of mixed cultures again, and there, even though there wasn’t a deliberately specified module set out, the history teacher there taught a wonderful unit (that was maybe early Keystage 3) on what the experience of London was like where we were sitting. It wasn’t just an academic [lesson] with a big A or a small a, it was really about the fate of London in the years between 1665 and 1667. It followed that incredible trifecta of catastrophe that occurred in the country from the Great Plague, through the fire, and to the Dutch invasion of 1667.
They were engaged not just by the accounts of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn but with maps of London, trying to imagine what would happen when you began with a pandemic. So the very clever teacher was thinking about the difficulties of SARS or influenza epidemics and what that would be like in a culture and a time long ago with very limited public health facilities and no aspirins or pharmaceuticals.
They were both effortlessly wiring together the experience of a long time ago with how the kids might actually internalise it in their contemporary lives. This was not a dumbing down or a vulgarisation of a knotty historical question because buried in there the teacher was doing exactly what great history teachers do, namely telling a story that generates questions.
That is what history is, - it is storytelling - that generates an analytical sensibility - and serious, - deep, - profound, - questions!
I went to Cottenham Village School in Cambridge and there was the Hitler bit, and it was a good hour on the Reichstag fire - and I was one of the people who thought ‘enough of the Third Reich already’ – I always remember that Alan Coren, the Punch humourist, had to collect a volume of his essays and he was told that Punch humour might or might not sell. [He was also told that] the three categories of books that always sold were animal books, books about golf, and the third one were any books about the Third Reich. So he called his book Golfing for Cats and on the front cover there was nothing but an enormous swastika. So I went into the swastika classroom and these kids were absolutely brilliant.
There was a good whiteboard presentation and they knew what the architecture of the Reichstag looked like before it was burnt, they knew about the shifty relationship between the ultra-nationalists of the right and completely way-out Nazis. There was nothing really that I would have asked of my own undergraduates at university that they were not engaging with!
I thought this was extraordinary and that it still might be possible, - given changing the infrastructural constraints, - to structurally make something of the curriculum we have. However, I was sympathetic and still am sympathetic to an attempt to give an over-arching chronological story from the beginning to the end, - as Michael Gove wants, - but then this document appeared before us all in February of this year!
Now I’m sure that Michael Gove did not actually want to give us 1066 and All That without the jokes, but that is pretty much what we’ve got I think!
What is extraordinary, and history teachers I’m sure you’ve looked at this since you might live in trembling fear and trepidation of having to teach a nine year old the heptarchy, is I want to say to Michael Gove, ‘Now Michael, let’s you and I go into a class of nine year olds and do the Kingdom of Mercia with them shall we? How are you proposing to do that?’
I would love also to bring Michael into a classroom and to do the entirety of not just the English but the English, Scottish and Irish Civil Wars in something like forty five minutes. If you actually take the number of statutory, non-negotiable, indispensable items on the document that we now have [as set out Gove’s draft national history curriculum] and that all my friends out there are going to have to teach, that’s what it comes down to! Whoosh, there was Disraeli! Whoosh, there was Gladstone! All whipping past one. The French Revolution, if it’s lucky, may get a drive-by ten minutes!
It’s sort of the Gradgrindian philosophy of historical pedagogy!
All you can do, is put salient facts up on the board, have the kids remember them - and see if they remember them - or have forgotten them next week - or the week after. There is no possibility of telling the story to generate questions even though question asking is actually specified in a rather eloquent and sympathetic way in part of the rubric to the new syllabus.
It may have been a little bit much for the New Statesman to say this is not a curriculum and that it is more like a pub quiz, but they were on to something! How much faith can you put in a document which seemed to believe that Adam Smith was English? Truly astonishing that he’s in a list of figures who are said to be part of the English enlightenment – don’t tell that to Alex Salmond!
The list of subjects seems to be essentially memories of A Level work circa 1965 embalmed in an aspic, and then sprinkled over the aspic is a garnishing of tokenism. Mary Seacole is there for example but not Mary Wollstonecraft. You wouldn’t know that British history is also about people other than white males, except that there was some little tokenism of the wrong kind here and there. It’s absolutely the wrong kind in my view…
But as I say, it makes it completely impossible to engage the kids, particularly in Keystage 3, with the issue of asking hard questions and having questions generated out of the narrative which you’re providing. If you take one example that I thought screamed of a kind of insulting, offensive, imperviousness to what it takes to wire together the past to the gloriously but challengingly changed character of Britain. It was three words in one item on this new national curriculum and these three words were “Clive of India”.
Think of what Britain is like now. This is not tokenism, it’s very important - and not just for those from an Asian origin, - but for all of us to know what the relationship between our eighteenth century Britain and the fate of the Indian subcontinent was. Couldn’t Michael Gove (or whomever was talking to him) put himself in the position of a small boy in Bradford, - Southall - or somewhere like that - saying ‘Dad, what are we doing here?’ [This could apply] for different cultures too, for a Jewish, Afro-Caribbean culture. How did this happen to be? How did we come to be British?
And believe you me, the answer is not "Clive" "of" India” ! The reason it isn’t Clive of India is because Clive of India, along with Wolfe and Quebec, was also embalmed in those foxed pages of ancient imperial histories in our island and empire stories of the 1950s and 1960s. Robert Clive was a sociopathic, corrupt thug, whose business in India was essentially to enrich himself, his co-soldiers and traders as quickly and outrageously as possible. He makes Fred Goodwin look like a combination of Mary Poppins and Jesus Christ by comparison.
Maybe that was Michael’s idea! That you actually have an example of someone for whom criminal squalor was the point of the exercise.
The issue I take with Robert Clive is his ultimate insignificance. There is a huge story behind Clive of India, - namely - how did the British come to be in India in the first place - and how did a trading company, The East India Company, - come to be a government of pretty much an entire subcontinent of a hundred million people?
That is an extraordinary story and that is one of the great stories of how we came to be the Britain we are, and how we were the Britain that we were in the period of the Durbars in the high nineteenth century. To answer that question - you certainly need more than the kind of forty minute drive-by you’ll get if you abide by the national curriculum guidelines.
You need to ask one much bigger question than knowing all you can know about Clive of India: what was eighteenth century India like? What was wrong with the Mugal Empire, what was the Maratha Confederacy and why was it incapable of resisting the intrusion of the British? But more particularly, and this is not to make a kind of cheaply anti-Imperial point, is neither to congratulate nor to deplore the experience under the British Empire, it is tounderstandits causal reality.
The crucial thing is what was that shift by which a failed trading company, The East India Company, discovered it could make more money by putting itself in charge of the government of Bengal, then of Madras, then of Bombay and then of an enormous expanse of the subcontinent? How was it that the business of government came to supplant the business of business? That is the story!
Now, to do that, you need to know real Indian history (not in impossible detail) with the help of myriad online sources, maps, diaries and all the things you’re using. It does presuppose that you are interested, as the rubric of the national curriculum says we all ought to be (and bravo to it), in the history of other people than ourselves.
This brings me at length to a sense of a conversation we might have in a minute, about why history is important for children and what we want to give our kids. The glory of history in the western tradition, about which we need not be apologetic for a minute, goes back to its founding fathers, Herodotus and Thucydides.
In my view it really does [go back to the founding fathers] because history in the end, for those of us who have been lucky enough to practice it, write it and read it, does certain things – in the first place the word itself in Greek, “historia”, is simultaneously a narrative and it is a matter of enquiry. I’m told by classical scholars more learned than I, that it meant the two things indistinguishably and it occurs in the first line of Herodotus’ great history.
So it is storytelling from which question asking is necessarily inseparable. Secondly, it is about the history of other people and people disconnected from us in time and space and sometimes in culture too.
One of the most remarkable things about Herodotus’ history is that he is so fascinated with the Persians, the enemy, as well as the remains of the Syrian and Babylonian culture and the Egyptians. It’s the first real attempt at an Egyptian ethnography and it’s not coincidental because Herodotus was not from Athens, he was an Ionian and inveterate traveller.
I always think of him as one of those people you come across in a carriage in a train (going to, say Newcastle) and he will not shut up! Then you realise - after having been irritated - how grateful you are the Herodotus figure will not shut up - telling you where he’s been in his life and times.
That is the glory of chatty, pluralistic, open-mindedness about the enemy and about people who are not like us. Thucydides is, of course, the flintier figure altogether. To Thucydides we owe the more aggressively analytical and philosophically embedded sense - that history will tell us what the human condition is - and it will tell us about the uses and the abuses of power. It too will tell stories - but they need to be chastening stories.
Thucydides was a general who had fought on the northern theatre of the Peloponnesian War - and looked upon the history of what became the Athenian Empire when it committed the act of hubris, which was the campaign to Sicily - with horror. The narrative arc is meant to culminate in those great debates about whether or not to go to Syracuse.
The great confrontation between the young and feckless glamorous adventurer Alcibiades and the wise old Lysias, who nonetheless is prepared to follow orders even though he knows it’s going to lead to catastrophe. And for Thucydides history is not about self-congratulation and it’s not about tracing the pedigree of the wonderfulness of us, nor is it about tracing the pedigree of the reprehensibly awful nature of us either.
It is a chastening, disenchanted, honest, tough-minded version of looking critically at ourselves and seeing what we have become and where we came from.
Historians, for Thucydides, are meant to keep the powerful awake at night and keep them honest.
I come from a culture where I teach in America and there is a lot of tremendous history being written and being taught! But, if anything, it suffers slightly from a sense of insular self-congratulation. If we take our two Greek founding fathers together: you take Herodotus’ aversion to the insularity of history and his attempt to say we cannot understand what makes us Greeks and what makes us come together as a particular cultural force in the world unless we understand Persia, Egypt and Asia Minor.
Then you take Thucydides’ aversion to history as a chronology of national self-congratulation, you have the glory and honour of western history. That is really what we need to instil and those are the things in my view that ought to animate a construction of a national curriculum.
Some of you teachers may not feel the same way - and feel we have enough time to teach history, - that it’s just the way that the national curriculum is set out now that it is so misguided that we can’t do it. Although - it seems to me - that it is not impossible to do this coherent chronology. It needs to be somewhere between the national curriculum as was, (in other words these only slightly arbitrarily connected modules), and this [Gove’s] pedantic and utopian scheme of knowing the names of the main Chartists! It does need to have nodes (I don’t want to call them modules), - it wants to have concentrations ofquestions.
Here’s one, for example, - it was absolutely astonishing to me that in this national curriculum that something that was incredibly important to British culture - and I mean Scottish, Irish and Welsh culture, - namely -everyone, - is missing and that isreligion!
Religion and its relation to secular power. I mean it says Henry II and Becket but of course the absolutely crucial issue lying behind that very dense knotty and all important issue of medieval history, which we’re supposed to teach to our ten year olds or younger, is the relationship between the Papacy and the Angevin, later Plantagenet, sense of their own independent sovereignty.
Why would our children not understand the importance of a debate between allegiances to God or to the King? Should they clash? To God in the figure of the Pope or to the King? I think that is something pretty much all our kids, I would have thought, would be able to get to grips with.
Staggeringly the word 'Puritanism' does not appear in the national curriculum list of must know-abouts. Whereas it’s inconceivable that you’d be able to understand how we came to chop Charles I’s head off, how Cromwell came to be Cromwell, if you don’t actually know the substance and content of Puritanism! There’s not a word on the Union of Crowns or how the King James Bible came to be conceived of as an act that would bind the different Christian communities of the country together.
I think there are concentrated areas where these big questions might be asked. For example, the relationship between industrial energy in the nineteenth century and an extraordinary presence of what we might call the social and moral conscious of the tribunes of Victorian England. It is rather amazing that the great and immense read figures of Victorian Britain are those who are most hostile to the ethos of material accumulation, namely Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens and John Ruskin.
In a sense they’re the top three, I can think of all sorts of other people too, such as Pugin, and so on. Not to mention that the Manchester manufacturer Friedrich Engels and the importance of the 1844 report The Condition of the Working Class in England don’t feature on the list. You can’t not only understand the nature of the Victorian conscience but you can’t understand where the Labour party and trade unionism will eventually come from unless you understand how electrifying, dramatic and powerful the social conscience was in Victorian England.
It’s something to be proud of, to celebrate - and something for the kids to engage with when they think about our own condition now - and the relationship of the public conscience to private cupidity - and the roaring nature of the economic system.
The issue I want to hear from you about is - should you as teachers just fling this back in the teeth of the Department for Education as full of impossibilities and absurdities, - or should we work with it? Are there things in the national curriculum with which you’re working now - that are just fine - or should that be abandoned altogether? What is it you want and how do you feel?
Parents too, you’re absolutely part of this debate! Tell me, what’s on your mind? I want to now go to as many questions as possible…
Q&A WITH SIMON SCHAMA AT HAY FESTIVAL (#Hay13)
SIMON SCHAMA If you are teachers I’d love to know where you are teaching and at what school.
QUESTIONER ONE I’m a history teacher in a secondary school in Surrey but I’m not actually allowed to give the name of it because I’ve been campaigning against [Gove’s proposed] curriculum for the last three months [APPLAUSE] My school doesn’t want to be associated with the campaign.
SIMON SCHAMA Can you tell me your first name?
QUESTIONER ONE Catherine.
SIMON SCHAMA Hey Catherine! Is your school frightened or nervous? Is it embarrassed by you?
QUESTIONER ONE My school has a policy of political neutrality, which I find kind of ironic because I think political neutrality in a curriculum in history should be aspired to. I think this curriculum raises some extremely important concerns for our democracy. There must be something very worrying about a government that wants to replace critical thought, critical engagement with source material (which is taught by the current approach) with rote learning. Democracies need citizens that can hold them to account and I think the current way we teach history in schools, though not perfect, trains citizens very well for this.
SIMON SCHAMA Can you give me an example of a particular lesson you teach where you said - "wow, I’m doing my job here"?
QUESTIONER ONE I actually teach Keystage 4 and A Level. I think that what really invigorates them and makes them love history is debate. I think that being force-fed political propaganda and a nationalist narrative is going to switch them off. They’ll feel bored and manipulated.
SIMON SCHAMA Can I interrupt you for a second and say that if you look at this rather ridiculous shopping list: Cromwell, the Chartists, the Suffragettes are there (although Mary Wollstonecraft is not there), - it’s impossible to do the rote learning and get through it all and have exactly the exhilarating debates that you’re talking about. But it provides for politics and social options of all kinds. Is that your worry?
QUESTIONER ONE Behind it is, in the Education Secretary’s words, ‘the desire to celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world’. I think if you approach history from a partisan position like that, it is very hard to ask difficult questions and have a proper debate. It also marginalises women and non-white ethnic groups and many other ordinary people. It completely side-lines social and economic history and all the rich diversity as it has developed in the universities over the past few decades. It reverts back to a very archaic political style of history teaching and archaic use of language, such as the Glorious Revolution. [APPLAUSE]
SIMON SCHAMA I’m essentially on your side and I don’t want to over-egg this, - but it doesn’t actually say "celebrate", - what it says is “to ensure that all pupils know and understand the story of these islands, how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world.” It doesn’t say "celebrate", - but what is incredibly wrong with that sentence is “how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world” and not vice versa, how the world influenced and shaped Britain. That’s a bigger giveaway than thinking Adam Smith is English actually.
QUESTIONER ONE I wasn’t quoting the curriculum document itself, I was quoting the Education Secretary who said those words and the Prime Minister has described it as "our island story in all its glory". I’m using this as an indication of where they’re coming from rather than quoting the document itself.
SIMON SCHAMA But it doesn’t prevent you Catherine and others – I mean the Slave Trade is always there and it’s right that it should be thought of as a structurally appalling element in the way Britain modernised. So in this long kind of shopping list there are all sorts of opportunities to think as you say, - critically - about how Britain became powerful.
QUESTIONER ONE To think critically about history, - you need time!
SIMON SCHAMA Ah bravo! AND HOW! This is a document written by people who have never sat and taught twelve year olds in a classroom. None of you should sign onto it until we trap Michael Gove in that very classroom and say, ‘Right, get on with it. Give me the Civil War in the next forty five minutes!” [APPLAUSE]
QUESTIONER TWO I teach at Newcastle funnily enough (but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you on a train) and I do agree with you and I do think history teachers are the anarchists in the classroom. Whatever they set up we will put it back as it should be. That’s what I would say, so I think it will always be that we will do the tests, run through the chronological gallop for a bit, then we’ll get into the debates in the areas that are meaty. Each teacher will do that separately and I will probably want to celebrate some of the glories of our past…
SIMON SCHAMA Sure, Magna Carta is worth celebrating. What’s your name?
QUESTIONER TWO John.
SIMON SCHAMA Promise me, - you’re going to continue to be an anarchist in that case? The issue is, - whether this enormous whale bone structure that is set out in this sort of unthought-through list of topics makes it incredibly difficult to do that? There’s no sense of how this would be tested. Two words I hate that actually really make me feel physically sick are ‘key developments’, but particularly when ‘key developments’, which don’t belong in the tradition of historical storytelling, are attached to King Athelstan – actually I’ll give a magnum of fabulous burgundy to anyone who can stand up here now and tell me the ‘key developments’ in the reign of Athelstan, and King Canute and I don’t want to hear the word "waves" in this either! There are no ‘key developments’! It’s stupid really. So the issue is about whether or not this sense of testable competence in history will enable you and Catherine to actually give kids a sense that these very important events happened but they were understood and written about in different ways. So that they can actually feel that disputes about the historical truth, - are NOT the same thing as saying these things don’t happen, - it’s NOT the same thing as chaos and confusion, - let alone relativism! You feel you could live with any version of the document that appeared?
QUESTIONER TWO Having taught since 1980 and having subverted right back to Thatcher I think I could pretty much teach proper history to…
SIMON SCHAMA But doesn’t the national curriculum – as it is - give you bigger space to do that?
QUESTIONER TWO It does, - but I think what will happen is you can tick boxes – we do that for head teachers, we do it for all kinds of people and they don’t really know what we’re doing either! [APPLAUSE]
SIMON SCHAMA If my adorable and horribly reactionary friend Prof Niall Ferguson was here with me, he’d say, - “they don’t know who John Hampden is”, - and David Starkey would say, - “they have no idea because they mix up Oliver Cromwell with Thomas Cromwell.” Does this have a sense of a leaping over because of the module friendly nature of the curriculum and the vast areas of British history? And indeed world history, - that are not taught at all? Does this give any of you teachers pause? Don’t you want a way in which you can join the dots up without having to join them as relentlessly as the curriculum document now suggests? Or are none of you bothered by that? It does seem extraordinary to me that it’s quite difficult at the moment One thing that I did not hear very much from schools, - is the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century is the furnace really, in which modern Britain is formed. Whether it’s an imperial power or an industrial power, it is the moment where Britain became Britain in some ways. Is this not a concern for you?
QUESTIONER THREE Nikki. I’m a teacher in inner city Coventry and there’s 56 different languages in my school.
SIMON SCHAMA Wow, 56! What’s the least likely one that’s going to surprise me?
QUESTIONER THREE As a first language? The least likely would be English. [What i want to say is ] I think that you’re perhaps underestimating the professionalism of history teachers. We do not jump great swathes of time, as Mr Gove maybe does more than ever. We have to cut bits obviously at one hour a week at Keystage 3. We have to teach to the exam board for GCSE and A Level , - but we are professionals and we are passionate about our subject! We do not suddenly give modules and make no links between them! My last lesson that I taught before half term last week was the slave trade, the atlantic triangular trade, - and there I was with my wonderful PowerPoint all prepared, - to have two Ghanaian girls in year 8 tell me the history of the slave trade in Ghana, which they will continue with after half term because they are preparing a lesson. Where will I have time for that in the new curriculum? Where will I be able to engage with them? That is the worry!
SIMON SCHAMA I’m thrilled to hear that, (That was my experience at Grey Coats when they did a wonderful thing on the 1666 fire of London , and the consequences), - I’m thrilled to hear that, - and bravo to you for doing that! But it sort of reinforces my point that when you have this relentless emphasis on moving onto the next thing (so as you get the names and dates right), it’s going to undercut the possibility of making the connection between who they are and where they have come from.
QUESTIONER THREE As my colleague over there said, we do that. That’s what we do and all we have to do is circumvent Gove and his national curriculum to do it. That’s fine, we’ll continue doing it.
SIMON SCHAMA So you’re not worried about anything?
QUESTIONER THREE Only that when OFSTED come in we have to tick the boxes, but until they come in we can go ahead and teach history properly. Then when OFSTED come in we’ll do it the other way. [APPLAUSE]
SIMON SCHAMA Yes, lady there?
QUESTIONER FOUR Hello, I’m Elly and I’m a parent. From a parent’s point of view, my children love history! But the time constraints of classroom are made up for, - when they are watching Horrible Histories, - which they adore! To help them understand history I think that helps, - whereas teachers just don’t have the time to cover everything in the curriculum, - so it is left to parents to help their children to take it that little bit further.
SIMON SCHAMA Well bless you, how old are your kids?
QUESTIONER FOUR My son has just started Keystage 3 so he’s twelve and my daughter is nine.
SIMON SCHAMA Parents, you are teachers too! I do say that history is a serious matter! For I was born in 1945, - and my dad was passionate about history, - starting with Shakespeare and the Bible, - but then my dad would kind of walk me round the ruins of London that were damaged in the Blitz, - and not just the bits that survived, - because London was full of soot-covered ruins that stuck out like stumps of blackened teeth, - and he would know where the mediaeval city was, - and where the post-fire of London city was. It was completely magical to me, - and it was important in the grim and tough and bleak years, - to understand there is a glory to British history - but the glory to British history is argument, dissent and the freedom of dispute. It’s not an endless massage of self-congratulation (pro-empire versus empire). It’s the division, - and the celebration of division, - that is at the heart of the story, beginning with Magna Carta! But you parents should use anything, museums, exhibitions, the web and absolutely anything you can get. The web is an incredible resource now, - but there’s nothing that is better than the passion of parents themselves for [communicating the importance of the past]. It is like taking them to an attic and opening up a suitcase of your great-grandmother’s belongings from wherever they came from. The attic of the memory is the gift we give our children and we hope our children will give to their children in due course as well.
QUESTIONER FIVE Hello my name is Wendy. I only do supply teaching now.
SIMON SCHAMA Were you a full-time teacher?
QUESTIONER FIVE I was a full-time teacher in Birmingham and I taught English as a second language there. So anyway, I was teaching in this comprehensive in Staffordshire in a mining village. We had a head of history who was a Sikh and there on his blackboard was “Clive the Invader”. Would you approve of this aspect of teaching English history?
SIMON SCHAMA No I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have him there as invader – I wouldn’t have Clive there at all to be honest. The sort of dumbly partisan hostile is as bad as the unthinkingly bad self-congratulation. As I said, the real question of how the British came to rule India is what happened to the Mughal Empire, - what was India like before the British, - and how could the suddenness of this thing happen? And as a matter of fact, - there are all sorts of extraordinarily highways and byways. For example, the figure who is actually not in Michael Gove’s precious list is Warren Hastings who is much more important and interesting. That is because Hastings is really interested in the East India Company supporting the religious education of Hindus and Muslims. The generation which follows, Sir William Jones, and those slightly unfairly demonised, (by my old friend Edward Said), as orientalists. There is a great debate which comes over both primary and secondary Indian education in which the young Macaulay takes part in the 1820s and 1830s, when the charter of the East India Company comes round for renewal, - it actually sounds very, very boring, - but it’s actually very profound because the issue was, - are we, the British, here in India to restore, revive and reinvigorate Indian institutions? Or is that condescending and patronising? Should we be here essentially to make money? And if we can’t make money, should we leave? Or the third question, was, - should we be Anglicising India? That’s a profound debate that takes place both in India and in Britain too. If you think about it, a debate like that cuts to the quick of our own questions about what our culture is like now. Those are the great questions which I’m convinced are more important than Clive the Invader.
QUESTIONER FIVE I’m a school governor and I’ve engaged with quite a battle royal with our head over the teaching of history in our school which I don’t find satisfactory.
SIMON SCHAMA Tell him to call me, I’ll sort him out! Again, he doesn’t see the importance of it at all. I’m sorry to hear it!
QUESTIONER SIX My name is Jonathan. I’m not a history teacher, I run a design agency in London, but I’m an employer, and I have serious fears with Mr Gove’s plans. He’s dropped art and design from the core skills and I see the dilution of history as another way of denying our country and our future of thinkers, detectives and deductors. In design you look at all the factors and it leads you to the brief and then you come to a resolution. When I enjoyed studying history at O Level and A Level we were encouraged to come to our own conclusions through looking at the facts and the primary evidence. I think this country has been built on history of innovation and being creative and inventive. If we lose that ability in whatever profession, because very few people go on to be historians but they use those skills in an engineering or a scientific capacity. Without the ability to ask, “what if” - and then test that, - we lose that. [APPLAUSE}
SIMON SCHAMA Wow Jonathan. That’s not really a question, it’s a speech, but that’s the first time I’ve heard the ability to think critically, to internalise and embrace past experience and to stand back from it and see it afresh spoken about, and you’re absolutely right. It’s at the heart of new ideas in theatre or whether you look at them in fashion or wherever. I couldn’t agree more with you! It’s a wonderful connection you’ve made!
QUESTIONER SIX There’s a fetishisation of science at the moment but if you have a scientist without imagination you will never have discovery. A scientist will ask, - “what if” - and then he has the skills to test that theory, - but if he doesn’t have the inquisitiveness to come up with the theory in the first place ., - then he’s just a drone.
SIMON SCHAMA Thank you.
QUESTIONER SEVEN I’m a teacher in Sheffield at the moment, I’ve taught in lots of different places, but I teach English language and literature. I was looking at the history curriculum because the teaching of history isn’t just a matter for history teachers, which I’m sure we all agree on here. We all own history, whether it’s English history or Jamaican history - it’s where I’m from. I see myself as an international citizen so the histories of all people is of interest to me and all history is connected. The saving grace of this whole debate is that the truth is not necessarily going to be determined by what history teachers teach in classrooms. I was taught history with an extreme dissonance between what I was taught in classrooms and my owned lived experience, - the stories I got from my parents, - and the things I read in novels. There is so much history in novels. Michael Gove doesn’t have control over those stories and no government will ever have control over peoples and their stories and the ways they can be told independently of how they’re taught in classrooms. For me that is at the heart of the question, - because what the problem with history was for me when I was being taught it, - was the sense that I was being lied to. So, - the issue for us is, - do we want a history curriculum that leaves our young people (with whatever heritage they have) - , feeling like they’re being lied to? If you come from a working class white background or from a Jamaican heritage background, if history isn’t truly about questions, (social history as well as the history of kings and queens), some section of the population that is being taught will feel excluded.
SIMON SCHAMA I take your point but I think that is an issue for any kind of curriculum, whether it is this one or the other one. The long list may seem a bit too white and male and imperial but actually there’s all sorts of things in this list that enable the ‘right’ version to get out. The issue is really whether or not there’s enough time, passion and engagement. We had that wonderful intervention over there which says that history teachers are true professionals and they will get around whatever the robotic machinery the curriculum gives them in order to do that. The main thing is to actually have the space to be able to have a rapt audience amongst our children and students for the stories that beg and demand the questions. That’s what we want!
Nightwaves - Simon Schama
Reflections on Dead Certainties & views on Gove's History Curriculum proposal
First broadcast: 22:00, 25th April 2013
CREDITS: BBC Production Team @BBCNightWaves
Presenter: Anne McElvoy @annemcelvoy
Producer: Philippa Ritchie @PippaRitchie
Link to BBC audio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ryv0x
ANNE MCELVOY Simon Schama is a prolific historian and broadcaster, best known for his prize-winning work on the French Revolution, America and the inter-twining of history and art. But one of his books that has unleashed some fierce arguments about his approach to the past isDead Certainties. It’s a mixture of fiction and meditation on the unreliability of historical versions centred on two inter-linked stories. The first is the death of General Wolfe, - and the link between personal destiny and the need to create heroes, a convenient truth constructed in this case by Benjamin West’s famous portrait of the heroic death of Wolfe at the battle with the French for Quebec.Dead Certaintiesis alive and kicking and has just been republished two decades after its first outing. But, in an era of first person memoirs and deconstruction of narrative history, - does fictionalising history still perturb us? Simon Schama joins me.
Simon, the book did create quite a stir at the time, - why do you think this response to the intermingling of fact and fiction was so strong?
SIMON SCHAMA Who knows? It didn’t cause Tolstoy any problems. Whoops, no I’m not comparing myself to Tolstoy. It was because I broke with the guild rules. It was perfectly okay for novelists to write a bit of non-fiction every so often, - or in the case of Penelope Lively who wrote an absolutely wonderful book calledMoon Tigerthat won the Booker Prize – it ought not to be forgotten and I don’t think is. It was about an elderly historian trying to do the same thing and write a history of the world while facing her end. It was possible to write a work of fiction about the problems which all historians face whether they’re doing fiction or non-fiction. Even Hilary Mantel would admit she faced it. Are you actually really there? What do your sources tell you? What do you imagine? Can you ever bridge the distance between your imagined sense of what goes on among the dead and the way you write about it?
ANNE MCELVOY But they sound like very reasonable questions, - and questions that have stalked history since Thucydides or Herodutus? But it DID cause a stir, - and you say you broke the rules of the guild?
SIMON SCHAMA Simply by creating two novellas. It came afterCitizens, my book on the French Revolution, - and that was a book where none of the seams were allowed to show - both of which are actually homages to nineteenth century history writing and their difficulties. ButCitizens, - was meant to deliver a smooth-faced epic of something that was very troubling. What I really wanted to do was turn the quilt round, - and show the seams, the ragged edges and the different bits and pieces - that had to go together to make a story. I actually wanted to have the freedom to be able to imagine the troubles of historians doing that – living and walking and listening to the murmur and rustle of the ghosts. I was just pathetically naïve. I thought, - “I’m a writer, a historian, a Prof, I have students and I’m not going to tell them that there is no difference between fiction and non-fiction”. Once you invent anything at all, - you’re committing fiction, - I happily do so! So this funny book is essentially a book of fiction which has bits of non-fiction in it, hence the slightly outrageous, presumptuous non-comparison with Tolstoy!
ANNE MCELVOY I was going to say, having not quite compared yourself to Tolstoy, you do …
SIMON SCHAMA I so didn’t! But, - you know what I mean…
ANNE MCELVOY I do but it’s just so much fun to tease you about that. You do mention Thucydides versus Herodotus and this long standing tension about the writing of history and indeed what history really is. Tell us about that.
SIMON SCHAMA The wonderfulness of Herodotus is myth, legend and bizarre things that couldn’t possibly have happened being embedded in that story of Greeks against Persians. He almost has this Homeric quality. It’s a kind of gossipy magic world that Herodotus inhabits so he’s the kind of warm-blooded, incontinent, gossipy figure from the Ionian Islands. I always ask my students, - “if you were trapped on a desert island, - would you want to be with Thucydides or Herodotus” - and there are no votes for Thucydides! That is because Thucydides is basically our friend Paxman or Humphrys [BBC Current Affairs] Thucydides is ferocious, analytical and thinks of himself as really hard-edged, - and never going beyond the documented fact. Well, - guess what, - Thucydides makes Pericles’ speech up! He admits it whilst castigating Herodotus! He admits the fact that he based the most famous speech in the defence of democracy on what someone had told him might have been the case when Pericles addressed the citizens of Athens!
ANNE MCELVOY So you obviously have great fun in this book, - turning the quilt over, - knitting these two ways of looking at history together, - as well as the enjoyability of writing fiction, - which must be quite nice?
SIMON SCHAMA I did want to write something set in Boston. There was a weird and extraordinary coincidence last week with the book coming out. It made it feel so poignant that I lived in Boston for thirteen years. Rather unusually for a Professor, - we lived in Boston nearby the State House, - and I loved the kind of strange, tweedy, slightly surly, repressed half-curmudgeon and half-whimsical quality of old Boston. There’s a wonderful place, - in Massachusetts Historical Society, (near the Museum of Fine Arts), - and it is one of those great old Bostonian places with a processional staircase. I asked to see the papers that they had about the second story inDead Certaintiesabout the killing of a Harvard benefactor by a Harvard Professor. The archivists came to me with a box, - and turned the box up, - and these letters spilled onto the table. They were the letters to the Governor of Massachusetts, (a lay preacher named George Briggs), - at the time of this internationally famous murder trial. I thought, - here they are, - these things screaming in funny little inks, - some of it actually green from the 1840s, - and if I can reproduce the kind of slightly terrifying strangeness of this in the Boston story, - that would be worth knowing and doing.
ANNE MCELVOY They were waiting for a historian to come along all those years, - weren’t they? The thing that interests me a lot about this, - is that things have moved on quite a bit since you first brought out this book. We have a lot more first person narrative, - and some very serious academic historians write in this genre, - some of whom we’ve had on the programme recently, - talking about the industrial revolution through diaries and letters. So this idea, - that it’s okay to find other prisms into history than just the direct source, - things that you can say are absolutely solid or can be checked against something else, - seems to be more accepted. Do you therefore think thatDead Certaintieswas ahead of its time, - but it’s no longer as shocking as it was?
SIMON SCHAMA You’re absolutely right, - it’s like one of those things you find in old Quality Street boxes or something. It’s charming of its time. I’m not really selling this book very well am I? I think you’re absolutely right, however I would say that what I think is becoming much more popular and rightly so, - are historical events which don’t necessarily need a hard-focussed resolution. You can line up all these versions of history and not come out necessarily with a final version – I wouldn’t want to do this in primary school Michael Gove, if you’re listening…
ANNE MCELVOY Oh well, funny you should say that! As we’ve got you, an eminent historian on the programme! Where do you stand now on the Gove debate, - on how much history should be taught on facts and dates, - and how much of that on differing interpretations?
SIMON SCHAMA They shouldn’t be mutually incompatible. The real horror of history teaching is that you only get an hour per week in most schools, an hour and a half if you’re lucky. Actually you can’t do Michael Gove’s facts and dates if you’re only going to have an hour and a half a week or less.
ANNE MCELVOY Most people asked about their subject would say, - there’s not enough of [hours] it. If you have to boil it down, - there is a big argument there. There is Richard Evans, Regius Professor at Cambridge, - who said “this is the wrong way to go” and “that it is the pub quiz version of history”. Are YOU backing or sacking Gove?
SIMON SCHAMA Well, that is the sneering Professor really saying that it is ‘the pub view of history’ – what does that mean? It is important that kids know who Nelson was, - I don’t feel apologetic about that, - but it’s important that they also know how suffragism happened. It’s important for them to know that there are competing views, [for example] - should Britain have been involved in the First World War? And, above all [it is important for it] not to be parochially British - that is what I have against the current Gove proposals.
ANNE MCELVOY Are they parochially British?
SIMON SCHAMA Yes they are too parochially British.
ANNE MCELVOY In what way?
SIMON SCHAMA What I’ve seen is essentially a procession of British events, - with a nod to embracing the history of the world when Britannia ruled the waves. That is not good. You can’t really understand why we got into our own drug war (the Opium Wars of the 1840s and I’m not sure that is on the hit-list of Michael Gove) unless you understand the decay, humiliation and impotence of the Qing Empire at that particular moment.
ANNE MCELVOY It’s interesting that you talk about historical focus on events away from Britain. You took General Wolfe who is very much a romantic figure of empire, admittedly you take lots of figures, but why him and not somebody else?
SIMON SCHAMA It could have been somebody that became a celebrity martyr. He was pretty much the first.
ANNE MCELVOY So it’s not him, it’s the manner…
SIMON SCHAMA Yes, it’s the fact that…
ANNE MCELVOY …you say he dies many times.
SIMON SCHAMA Yes, I do! Because Benjamin West copies the painting he makes of Wolfe’s death and it becomes a matter of monument in Westminster Abbey. He becomes that very worldly, Hanoverian culture’s equivalent of a Christian saint and martyr. And all the way to Gordon of Khartoum, Florence Nightingale, and David Livingstone, Empire…
ANNE MCELVOY I wonder if you’ve set off something you can’t entirely control, - because there is also such a postmodernism about the study of history. People say there is an eternal relativism, - and that you can never get to a truth. Would that be an unwelcome conclusion?
SIMON SCHAMA No, I don’t hold that view at all. I think history’s job, even if it does say it is difficult to get to the truth, is to say this is how it really happened. History should do everything it can to flee from falsehood, and it has an awful lot of work to do in order to make that happen. This was just a book, a piece of fiction about how hard it is to do even that!
ANNE MCELVOY Thanks to Simon Schama, and Dead Certainties is published by Granta this week:
BBC 3 Night Waves - History at School
CREDITS: BBC Production Team
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Neil Trevithick
David Cannadine, Sir (Prof of History, Princeton)
Tristram Hunt MP, (History Lecturer, Queen Mary, University of London)
Sheila Lawlor, (Director of the think tank, Politeia)
Stephen Drew, (Headteacher, Brentwood County High School)
Dinah Birch (ProVC for Research & KE, Prof of English Literature, Liverpool)
Link to audio:First Broadcast: BBC Radio 3 : 2nd April 2013 via @BBC3Nightwaves:
TRANSCRIPTION produced by team at Historyworks (do credit/acknowledge if you use our transcript: see our policy on our website for copyright is Creative Commons)
RANA MITTER Hello. “The future is certain, it is the past that is unpredictable.” That comment is attributed to an old Soviet bureaucrat. But in recent weeks the person who has being putting the unpredictability into the study of the past is the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. He is unhappy about the way in which history is taught in our schools and in particular the lack of concentration on British history.
In February his office announced a new draft history curriculum. Many welcomed it as a return to traditional historical values and chronology, but to its critics it seems to concentrate on the British Isles to the exclusion of Europe and the wider world, as well as being keener on transmitting facts than fostering debate. All the same, history remains at the heart of arguments about national identity - at a time when - immigration, Europe, and globalisation are more important than ever. At the moment, in many respects, history is the national debate so Nightwaves is bringing its spotlight to bear with a special edition - on what the present should make of the past - as taught in schools.
Earlier I asked David Cannadine, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, his views about how we should teach history. But first I asked him to reimagine himself as a precocious schoolboy and tell me what he first remembered being taught in a history class.
DAVID CANNADINE The first thing I remember being taught or asked to do was to draw a map of a farm with the agricultural rotation system, and I can’t now remember the different crops but I can remember there was a fallow field. There were three crops I think and there was a fallow field which had to be left to recover and then the next year it all altered. I’m pretty sure that that’s about the first thing I learned.
RANA MITTER How old would you have been then?
DAVID CANNADINE I think I was probably about 8 or 9.
RANA MITTER So it did kind of stick in the memory? It comes to my mind because you’ve written several times in the recent past about the way in which history can be taught in schools and to a wider audience - a couple of years ago The Right Kind of History and most recently The Undivided Past which is actually about advocating that perhaps there should be more history that stresses unity rather than difference. Now, with that second message what are the implications for public education in Britain would you say?
DAVID CANNADINE Well the book is primarily addressed to politicians, pundits, policy makers and editors of newspapers and is mainly concerned to attack or regret the rhetorical irresponsibility of public figures and commentators who seek to ratchet up confrontation and conflict, and who seek to tell us that the world is very simple and is divided between us and them. I’d have thought on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq that was hardly a point that needed labouring. It’s Peter Hennessy’s point that the purpose of historians is to tell truth to power. Or, to put it another way: - while it’s the job (or weakness) of politicians and pundits to say the world is very simple - it’s the job of historians to say it’s very complicated.
RANA MITTER …The historian David Cannadine.
We did invite Michael Gove to join but he wasn’t available - however I am joined by the top of the form when it comes to the UK’s history boys and history girls.
Dr Tristram Hunt is a historian and Labour MP, Stephen Drew is head teacher of Brentwood County High School, Dinah Birch is Professor of Victorian Literature at Liverpool University, and down the line from Cambridge is Dr Sheila Lawlor, is a twentieth century historian and Director of Politeia, an independent think tank which works on economic and social policy. I’m going to put the cruel Cannadine question to each of you as well. Stephen, you’re a history teacher, - what was the first thing you can remember being taught?
STEPHEN DREW I can remember being eleven and drawing long barrows and then going home to make models of long barrows.
RANA MITTER How about you Dinah?
DINAH BIRCH My memory is rather different. As a very small girl in the infant class our motherly teacher told us stories of heroic deeds, - and the one that really sticks in my mind is Grace Darling. Do you remember the heroic Victorian girl who rode out with her father to rescue shipwrecked sailors clinging to a rock? But I have to say, - my response was based on a complete misunderstanding because I thought she was a brave little bird – a Grey Starling – and I could never work out how she managed the oars with her wings, it must have been so awkward.
RANA MITTER I think you better inside and do a hundred lines Dinah. Tristram, how about you?
TRISTRAM HUNT I think my first historical memory was a school trip, - and it was a really impressive school trip to the sites of the industrial revolution. We went to Iron Bridge and we went to the Black Country, - and the object that I remember - is actually a ceramic flower - so I’m thinking we might even have gone to my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent.
RANA MITTER And how about you Sheila?
SHEILA LAWLOR I think it was being really puzzled when I was told that Henry VIII, King of England, had rebelled against the Pope. We can’t have been older than eight and nine and I was puzzled about the reason, because we were give two, - was it because he wanted to divorce his wife who was Spanish, - or was it because he wanted to get hold of the church lands?
RANA MITTER Well I think Michael Gove would be proud of all of you in terms of both the facts and the debate you bring to bear upon them.
Stephen, there’s been a lot of argument, often much of very ill-informed, in the last few weeks and months about what is actually taught in history in schools. Now obviously it’s a massive curriculum but can you give us a concise account of what is covered and what isn’t?
STEPHEN DREW I think the first thing to say is that there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of government ministers and a lot of people who work in academic history in universities about what actually goes on. I think often the way in which it’s presented actually ties in with the prejudices that people seem to have, in order to attack what goes on in schools. I think for myself, when I last wrote a curriculum for schools as head of history, about ten years ago, and we wrote a curriculum that was based on the national curriculum model of studying a focus on British European history, starting in 1066 as it’s a natural dividing line through to the twentieth century. But reading some of the comments that ministers and others have made recently – suggestions of ‘I’ve learnt about Francis Drake going round the world by standing on a table’, suggestions that somehow it’s all a joke - and that somehow history teachers are creating some kind of entertainment world – and not focussed on what’s going on, this misses the point. The young people who I’ve taught history to over the last fifteen years have learnt about everything from the Norman Conquest through to the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Industrial Revolution. We do it all - but we don’t focus on a narrow, solely British version of history, - which is a fallacy in itself.
RANA MITTER Ok, we’ll come back to what is taught and how it is taught in some depth later on. But, Dinah, I wonder if I might ask you to put on your hat as an expert on the Victorian world? People often hark back to the good old days of school teaching as an example of what we should be doing now. What exactly would Victorian schoolchildren have been learning in their history classes? Would they have had them?
DINAH BIRCH A great many Victorian schoolchildren wouldn’t have been learning about history at all. Whether they would or not would have depended very much on what kind of school they were attending. Of course many Victorian schoolchildren attended no school at all, - and that’s worth remembering. Those who did study history, would primarily have focussed on a national narrative, - and it would have had an ideological - or as the Victorians would have put it, - a moral content. I think that was almost exclusively true. There was of course, no national curriculum, so what was taught would vary widely from school to school.
RANA MITTER Would boys and girls have studied the same things in those days?
DINAH BIRCH Unlikely, although it depends – you say “those days”, there was an enormous range of development from the early Victorian decade right up to the end of the nineteenth century. There was more convergence towards the end of the period …
RANA MITTER Broadly speaking, was history a subject that was taught only to boys, or to boys and girls?
DINAH BIRCH It was taught to boys and girls. It was often however taken more seriously (it seems to me) in girl’s schools, primarily because the boys were focussing exclusively on the classics, - and for many boys it was classics that was their introduction into history because they were learning about the history of Greece and Rome.
RANA MITTER And that was learning the languages as well?
DINAH BIRCH Absolutely, very much so. Whereas girls often had, ironically, a broader curriculum because they weren’t so focussed on Greek, Latin, Greece and Rome. So they often had rather more of a focus on a national history. But it is worth reminding ourselves that (history is full of surprising facts) in the early 1860s only around 5% of kids in school would be staying on in education beyond the age of eleven. There was very little sophisticated historical narrative , - for almost all British children.
RANA MITTER Well, there is now compulsory history, at least up to the age of fourteen, which is actually less than in most European countries, - but nonetheless it is part of the curriculum. Tristram, you’re a Member of Parliament,- but you are also a published and specialist historian on the subject of the Victorian period. One of the things that David Cannadine said later on when I talked to him, - is that actually the national curriculum that we have in history at the moment is ok, - the problem is that there isn’t enough space and time within the curriculum to cover the material. Isn’t that a fault of the politicians?
TRISTRAM HUNT Yes, I agree with David. If you were in the Education Department, would you put all your activity into trying to rewrite the history curriculum? No, because actually, you look at key stage 3 and keys stage 4 (ages 11-14 and 14-16) and those are not bad curriculums, - and also they allow for a pretty good degree of focus on the teaching of British history (I don’t have a problem with the slight foregrounding of it). But the average thirteen year old only gets one hour of history per week, - and your ability to deliver detailed historical understandings through that – while also often with history teachers having to teach citizenship and other classes - means that the space for historical understanding is limited.
RANA MITTER Sheila, this is the problem isn’t it? You’re obviously a published historian as well (of the twentieth century),- isn’t the issue not the content of the curriculum, - so much as the fact that there’s so little time in British schools, - to actually teach it?
SHEILA LAWLOR I think that is a real problem. We have far too little school time. For instance this one hour which Tristram mentioned – Tristram, that is sometimes quite generous, - because some schools have one period of maybe 40 minutes per week. In France, by contrast, children have three hours of history on average. So I think that the amount of time available in school is definitely a problem, but I also (and I go further than the others) think the [current] curriculum is too prescriptive. Too much is demanded of tiny, often irrelevant details and yet there isn’t really enough time. I would much prefer something which gave teachers far more freedom and simply gave us the bare bones, (if you like the skeletons), perhaps - I would suggest the dates and chronologies - so that teachers could put the flesh on that in any way they liked.
STEPHEN DREW As the head teacher in the conversation, I’ve been teaching history for fifteen years in schools, I’ve taught in four different schools, my brother is a history teacher and he has taught in three different schools. I know dozens and dozens of history teachers across the country and I have never ever seen a secondary school which has as little as 40 minutes a week of history, ever. I have never spoken to a head teacher or history teacher who has as little as 40 minutes a week of history.
TRISTRAM HUNT But are you seeing (which I’m certainly seeing in schools that I visit) the pressurising of history teaching? So actually you are getting not only history being given up in schools around the age of thirteen, you’re also seeing history effectively dismantled, - by combining it (in a kind of generic humanities course), mixing it with geography, religious studies and whatever you want, - so actually your space for real history teaching is increasingly limited?
SHEILA LAWLOR That’s exactly it.
STEPHEN DREW But, curriculum models are based on the national curriculum. When I first started teaching, - citizenship didn’t exist, - politicians made the decision to add citizenship to it - so therefore that puts another thing into the field. R.E remains something that the government and DFE push as being central to schools - so at what point do we balance everything together? There is only so much time?
RANA MITTER Dinah?
DINAH BIRCH One of the things that has emerged very clearly from the national debate we’ve been having over recent weeks, - is how very closely bound up these arguments are with politics. That’s no new thing, history and politics have always been closely engaged. But, as Stephen has said (rightly I think) is that the problem rising from that, - is that positions become polarised and they become detached - from what really happens in schools. What I would very much like to see. - is for people to take a deep breath, - to step back from their own polemic agendas, - think about what really happens in schools, - what might happen more effectively, - and in a way step down from their political soapboxes.
RANA MITTER Ok, we’ll talk about the politics of it in some depth, - but I do want to get to some of the details of the draft curriculum that has been proposed - and which has both been praised on some sides - and attacked on others. Tristram, I turn to you as a historian of Britain. There is a much stronger concentration on the British Isles in this proposed curriculum, - is that something that gladdens your heart? More sales of your books perhaps?
TRISTRAM HUNT I don’t have a problem with that, - partly because I think the lack of historical knowledge out there is so stark and so profound, - and because I think that the traditional organs through which people came to understand the past - whether it’s churches, or chapels, or families, or political parties, or trade unions, or scouts or cubs, or all those civil society groups - are justnot there to the same degree…
RANA MITTER So, - you back Michael Gove [on his history curriculum]?
TRISTRAM HUNT So, actually, the inheritance which people need to have some sense of (in terms of British history) needs to be fore-grounded. But where I diverge from Michael Gove, is that you cannot teach it in isolation. What I like is a fore-grounding of British history - but within a global context.
14.41 RANA MITTER Sheila, would you agree with that take on the question of the British Isles as the spine of the history curriculum?
SHEILA LAWLOR I’d rather the draft took more account of the very strong interconnection between Britain and Europe, because you can’t understand English or British history, without that constant interaction with European politics, religion and war. I’d also like to see greater emphasis on Britain and the world, - because Britain was an island race, - and politics, power, wealth, economics, - were bound up with the world.
RANA MITTER That sounds to me Sheila like a polite way of diverging from the proposal though, because essentially the curriculum that exists now has British history running through it, - but engages with the wider world. One of the things this draft does, is to celebrate the island story, it seems.
SHEILA LAWLOR You have to start somewhere and I certainly agree, - you start with the history of your own country, - but you bring in more. And I think you have to start on a chronological basis and go through. And yes, we need to have a spine, - which is the spine of the history of your own country. This helps you to understand where you are and all those other things you need to know about; the evolution of politics; the battles over religion; and why Britain today may be a much more secular country than other contemporary democracies of the same sort; the nature of economic power and decline, if necessary. All those things are part of the story, but I think that you in order to understand that story you have to know more about the relationships of this country - just take the Reformation, the Counter-reformation, and the successions …
RANA MITTER You’ve given us some very good specific examples, - but Tristram Hunt is looking rather sceptical, I have to say…
TRISTRAM HUNT I just feel for Stephen and his colleagues, - trying to deliver this to thirteen-year-olds on a Thursday afternoon. I think Sheila’s original point was good, that actually what politicians should do is create the over-arching structure and allow some autonomy for teachers. But also, I think we need to include the importance of local history, - because, how else do you get young people who are not necessarily interested in history, - passionate about the past? You begin with their street names, you begin with the names of the local pubs, and the parks, and all the rest of it, - and you build up a history there.
RANA MITTER Dinah Birch?
DINAH BIRCH There would be real advantage in integrating the national curriculum with the syllabus of GCSE courses and A’Level courses, - because one of the difficulties that many children have experienced as things are currently framed - is that of repetition, because there is not a significantly coherent connection…
RANA MITTER Okay, that makes sense, - but we don’t want to get too bogged down in the technicalities of how the curriculum fits together, - but Stephen, as a teacher or head teacher who might have to oversee the new curriculum, - how does it strike you in terms of content and practicality?
STEPHEN DREW I think that if the Department for Education believe that the key stage 2 history curriculum is ever going to happen in any primary school -as it is set out on this document - “they are [having us on]”, - to use a very colloquial phrase, - “they are joking”.
RANA MITTER There is a difference [of opinion about] eight-year-olds learning about the Heptarchy …
STEPHEN DREW I look at the list I have here, - there are sixteen bullet points - running from early Britons and settlers including the Stone, Bronze and Iron Age through to the Glorious Revolution. The idea that that is teachable in the four years of Key Stage 2, - by a group of primary school teachers who are covering every single subject going, - who are extremely unlikely to be history specialists – I read that as somebody who has GCSE, A Level, degree history and has taught history for fifteen years - and that scares me! And I’ve spent all day for fifteen years teaching history!
TRISTRAM HUNT And also there is the raw practicality, - which is if they want to deliver this, - they have to start training teachers in it from this September, - which means they need everything prepared over the next five weeks, in order to start training in September for next year…
STEPHEN DREW And it’s also the case, that if you look, (for instance), at the thing we talked about already, - about the idea of it focusing on Britain. I know that as the draft has gone through, - that people have been added to it, - Mary Seacole was the great debate about how she wasn’t in it originally and then she was added…
RANA MITTER This is the nurse?
STEPHEN DREW Yes, the nurse. I know that it becomes something to hang everything on, - is it Nightingale - or is it Seacole? And if you are involved in teaching history it is an ongoing [debate], - but for me it strikes at the core of what is going on here. It strikes absolutely to what Mr Gove is trying to do, - in that when the first draft came out, - the focus on Britishness, - the focus on identity, - is so clear, - and if you read things, (for instance), - when it says - “The Tudor period: including religious strife and reformation in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary.” How on earth can you possibly do that, - without looking at what was going on in Spain at the time, - and the work of Martin Luther, - how can you possibly even begin to expect someone to understand that? But the point is, - is if the Department for Education and those promoting this curriculum are arguing actually: “no, no, it isn’t just solely British-faced, it isn’t solely based on that” - then why aren’t the references to a wider cultural context (in Europe and the World) in there?
RANA MITTER Sheila, isn’t this part of the problem, - that there is a story of British, actually mostly English national identity being threatened through this, - but it is one that is largely Protestant, - and it’s also one that is largely celebratory, - and whiggish, in its terms?
SHEILA LAWLOR I’m not so sure that that’s the main problem. I think…
RANA MITTER But you agree that that is the case?
SHEILA LAWLOR It is one way of looking at it, - but I think that it will have to go further. For instance, we’re going to have to look again at medieval history, - and we’re going to have to look again at the whole Anglo-French relationship is brought in …
RANA MITTER Who is “we” in this context?
SHEILA LAWLOR I think “we” as a country, - now that a consultation time [is in process] - when historians, teachers and other people involved in the subject, - will have to respond - to make it absolutely clear where they think there are gaps. But remember, even when the first Education Act came in, - in 1944, - there was a huge debate about how much you put into a school curriculum, - and in the end, some wiser wag said, “you know it mustn’t become a basket for everybody’s pet idiosyncrasies otherwise there’ll be no freedom!”
RANA MITTER That’s fair enough, Sheila, but would you say that in the year 2013, - for a curriculum to be proposed that uses the term “Indian Mutiny” - maybe shows a lack of sensitivity to the way in which history has changed over the last half century?
SHEILA LAWLOR Well, I don’t know whether one wants to be anachronistic or not, - if one is telling the history (or the story of one country), - and every country – (look at the French curriculum or what happens in Germany, at least in the twentieth century), - you have to start somewhere, - and if this is the term which has been commonly used, (was used at the time and was subsequently), - it will be up to the teacher to explain how people thought at the time. Remember history is about teaching how others lived and how others thought, - and not imposing our own prejudices on that….
TRISTRAM HUNT I think that Rana is right to pick up that language, - and I also think he’s right [because] you look at the curriculum, - and it talks of “Clive of India”, - it talks about “gunboat diplomacy” - without quotation marks. There is a sort of anachronism, and a certain world view, embedded in this. The real problem though, is that Michael Gove has put out this draft curriculum, - and it needs to be thinned out incredibly, - more power needs to be returned to the teachers. This idea that you’re going to have seven-year-olds learning about “the heptarchy”, - from primary school teachers who may not have a first qualification in history, - is crazy! So, it does need to be rethought.
RANA MITTER Dinah?
DINAH BIRCH One of the things that strikes me as really strange about this draft, is that there is a mismatch, - between what is said in the prefatory material, - and then what goes on in the detail of what is proposed for study. Because it begins by making all kinds of quite sensible observations about what history can do and should do for children, - and there is an emphasis in that Preface, - on what are described as the connections between local, regional, national and international history. It’s describing a much broader approach, - than seems to me, - to emerge from the details of the curriculum. It’s as if the two halves of the document have been written by two different people, - or groups of people, - which may well be the case!
RANA MITTER Stephen, can I ask you as someone on the coalface (if that’s the right metaphor to use) – I mean that Sheila has said, - that we, collectively, need to feed back - to refine this curriculum. Do you feel you have a mechanism to do that? Is that practical?
STEPHEN DREW No. I don’t look at Mr Gove and Mr Wilshaw as some kind of …
RANA MITTER Mr Wilshaw is the Chief Inspector of Schools?
STEPHEN DREW (Yes, Mr Wilshaw the Chief Inspector of Schools )– I don’t look at the two of them, - as they are often presented by many people involved in teaching unions and others in the profession, - as the great enemies of what’s going on in schools and the rest of it. However, it is clear that when Mr Gove says something, - he is not for moving, - and this, for me, represents - what is at the moment the absolute vision of what a certain group of politicians working around Mr Gove, - believe education should be about.
TRISTRAM HUNT I think he is for moving. He moved on his disastrous plans for GCSEs. I think the consultation ends on April 19th or something, - and I would urge Stephen and all interested parties – to submit to the consultation - because I actually think this is a starting point, - and I think there will be a lot of redrafting and re-editing of it.
RANA MITTER Well, I should say that not everyone would have characterised them as disastrous. Sheila, you’re obviously not here to defend Michael Gove, - but one of the things that worried me slightly, - was that his first reaction to the statement by a large number of academics that they were concerned, - was essentially to use a public speech to mock academic historians as being unwilling to allow children to actually learn any facts. It was a complete misrepresentation, surely, of what was said?
SHEILA LAWLOR Well, you know the academic community is like any other, it’s deeply polarised even in a subject as innocent as Latin. We, as a country, have huge debates amongst Latinists, - about whether to teach language at school, - or whether to wait until children go to university. And it’s exactly the same with mathematics. I don’t think for a moment, that you have to put in exactly precise things in the curriculum, but I think dates are pretty non-controversial, and so if you said, - the Romans in Britain, - Anglo-Saxon England, - the coming of William the Conqueror…
RANA MITTER Do you know the exact dates of the heptarchy, yourself, Sheila? I don’t think I do…
SHEILA LAWLOR No! I tell you, thank God it’s not my period!
RANA MITTER Dinah, let me bring you back to a comment that you made almost in passing (and Sheila said something similar too) which is that , of course, as part of a history curriculum we need to learn the national story. That’s something we would say about history, - that we wouldn’t say about mathematics or physics or some other subjects, - but why do we need to use history in that sense?
DINAH BIRCH Because if we know where we’ve come from, - we are better placed to know who we are, - and I do think that the enlargement of sympathy and of mind that rises from having a clearer sense of the experience of the people who lived in the place where we live, - is exciting for children, - and it is a way of giving them a clearer sense of their own identity, their potential, their own place in a community, and their own future.
RANA MITTER Stephen, is that the way it looks in the classroom, - on that wet Thursday afternoon, - that Tristram mentioned?
STEPHEN DREW First of all, I would like to say, that I’m not entirely convinced by any argument at all that suggests that the purpose of history education is to somehow transmit any sense of national identity. We don’t agree on a national identity as a country. It’s predicated on an assumption that we have an agreed version of national identity, - and we don’t! We live in one of the most diverse countries in the world. If you are teaching history in an inner city London school. - you could be teaching to a group of children who come from different parts of the world for every single child in the room, - and the idea that history somehow should be used to transmit some kind of national identity through the use of the content of the curriculum, - I just think is a false idea. It’s using schools to deliver something (and obviously it’d be fine if the government stayed the same all the time and they agreed all the time on what they were going to do, that would be absolutely fine), - but we have had a period of ten years during the time of Labour government, we now have a Conservative and Liberal Coalition, we may well have a different government in the future, - if things are so politicised then people are driving the curriculum based on what they believe,- we then run the risk of constant change and undermining any sense of validity.
TRISTRAM HUNT I very much agree with Stephen, that politicians when they come in and out of office, - should not be rewriting the curriculum to suit their own political viewpoints, - [because] that happened in India when the BJP came into power, - that happened in Croatia when other politicians came into power, - and it’s a bad form. But where I do disagree with Stephen is that I think it is more important than ever, - because of the nature of our multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, - that kids from Somalia, and Croatia, and Bangladesh, - have a sense of British history because they will be British citizens!
RANA MITTER But, which British history should they have a sense of, Tristram?
TRISTRAM HUNT I am not wholly opposed to many elements of what Michael [Gove] has proposed. I would tinker around the edges with it… But, - should they learn about the English Civil War? Yes! - Should they learn about the Industrial Revolution? Yes! - Should they learn about the nature of Empire? Yes! - But you can teach those [subjects] within a global context, - so immediately it appeals to someone from Bangladesh, - it has a relevance to someone from Somalia, - but you foreground British history, - and that’s why I think it’s perfectly acceptable for politicians to be involved in this process in a responsible manner, - because you are teaching an element of citizenship. I would much rather have kids understand identity and citizenship through history, - rather than through very flabby citizenship courses.
RANA MITTER Sheila, isn’t one of the answers to this, - perhaps not to depoliticise history, - but explicitly to repoliticise history ? We all know as academic historians - that there are often politically informed positions on everything from the English Civil War to the role of Winston Churchill - why not use a new curriculum explicitly to make those political positions clear in opposition to each other?
SHEILA LAWLOR Well, I’m a bit uneasy with this idea that the aim of any curriculum is to provide a given national identity. I certainly don’t think that is the intention of the present attempt to reform history teaching, - but I think it is vital that we do give children a framework to understand the country in which they are growing up. It isn’t …
RANA MITTER But someone has to choose the framework Sheila.
SHEILA LAWLOR Well look, in no other European country do people tie themselves up in knots about, quote, “whose history”!
RANA MITTER Oh! you’ve never been to Germany? Sheila, come on…
SHEILA LAWLOR That’s from twentieth century history, - but if you look at the broad outlines of history as she is taught in most contemporary countries like our own…
RANA MITTER I think the African-American community might disagree with you very strongly on that. If you go to a large number of democratic countries there is a very healthy debate about the nature of history.
SHEILA LAWLOR Yes, but if we look at what other similar European countries expect their children to know by the time they leave school, - it will be a broad outline - and may I say that this outline of teaching basically a chronological framework - which teachers are free to debate and discuss within the history lessons- is the most liberating for anybody because you are giving children the knowledge on which they can decide on which bits they agree with and which they don’t. And, I think, the other problem is, - if you start going down this route of - (what sounds to me, like trying to please everybody) - you end up denying children the essential knowledge which helps them to form judgements about information, about detail, about the kind of past that we are evaluating…
RANA MITTER But Sheila, if you don’t want please everyone (in your phrase) who do you elect not to please?
SHEILA LAWLOR It’s not a matter of pleasing anybody. If you look at the dates and the major landmarks - the skeleton, which everybody has, - and we want to put the flesh on it, - let’s leave it to the teachers and the textbooks to fill up the preferred flesh, - but I do think we can agree that the Romans came to Britain, that there were Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, that there was a spread of Christianity, we can agree that the Normans came to Britain, we can decide what we want to emphasise during certain periods such as the plague…. There are all kinds of emphasises, - but there is a chronological framework, - and I think that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is the first person who sees that children have a right to know the past as they do in Germany, France, Switzerland, anywhere that you choose in Europe.
RANA MITTER Dinah?
DINAH BIRCH Well I share the general scepticism about the difficulty of using history to construct a national identity, - (as Stephen says), - we don’t agree about what that might be. Nevertheless, that doesn’t seem to me to rule out giving children a strong sense of the worlds that made their world, - and that can sometimes be a way of giving them, it seems to me, a sense of their own values. If you are a kid growing up in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, -- it’s genuinely engaging to learn about Liverpool’s history as a port city, one of the great cities of the world, - Sheffield’s history in the Industrial Revolution and its history of steel manufacture, - or even if you’re in a rural school in East Anglia, to learn that Britain was the home of the Agricultural Revolution. There are all kinds of things that have happened in Britain that matter to us now! But I’m not saying anything new, this is all going on… in schools…
TRISTRAM HUNT It’s important to stress, - because if we actually think about the last twenty, twenty-five years - there has been, understandably, a degree of relativism about teaching different cultures and different stories - relative to Britain’s own. Where I agree, is [there is needed] just a slight hand on the tiller, - to say we’re in a different world now, - we’ve experienced incredible change in this country over the last ten to fifteen years in terms of new communities and in terms of multicultural Britain, - and we should be unapologetic about the foregrounding of the teaching of British history.
STEPHEN DREW To give an example - thinking about one of the things that seem to have been talked about quite a lot with the curriculum - is to say, well, it’s a framework, it’s a skeleton, - and teachers will be able to do to do whatever they want to do. But I question whether or not the Department for Education and OFSTED and others are going to be happy about - a teacher, who (for instance), teaches the Industrial Revolution starting by the fact of saying - the only reason why Britain had the money to carry out an industrial revolution was through the money they had made through their empire, through taking money from other parts of the world, and through promoting the slave trade, - and saying that many historians would argue that is actually what the basis was of the funding for the Industrial Revolution. One of the things we also see, - is a lot of criticism of human rights records for other countries in the world, - so we’re talking at the moment about China and other places, and about how we are able to have cheap goods in our country because of factory-based revolutions going on in China, - which then crushes people’s rights. But are we going to be proud to teach our Industrial Revolution in a way that we’re supposed to promote British identity - but actually the only way we were able to have the Industrial Revolution was because we operated a situation where there was no recognition whatsoever of the rights of workers, and those workers had very, very low wages and suffered early deaths.
TRISTRAM HUNT It shouldn’t simply be about pride. You can teach the Industrial Revolution, - and when I’ve gone into schools in Stoke-on-Trent to teach the Industrial Revolution - I take my well-thumbed copy of Engel’s The Condition of the Working Class in England with me. His account of child workers in Stoke-on-Trent working for Dalton and Wedgewood and all the rest of it in the 1840s – about skin peeling off their fingers because of the chemicals they’re involved with, - is terrifying and wonderful and exciting, - but that doesn’t mean everyone has a slap on the back,- but they begin to know about the nature of industrialisation, - they know about the nature of Stoke-on-Trent, - they know about the nature of art history. We shouldn’t over-worry about the fact that was within a colonial context,- it’s just good if you’ve got an hour with these kids - that they should know about that history!
RANA MITTER Sheila, are you concerned about the way in which teachers might take the framework (as you put it) - and inevitably put some sort of explicit or implicit ideological coating on it - as they transmit it to thirteen or fourteen year olds?
SHEILA LAWLOR Not in the slightest. If you have a history teacher who knows history and who is educated in history - they will have either a favourite period or special interest - but nobody I think ever learnt about the Industrial Revolution without learning that history is warts and all! And that’s the great thing about a proper curriculum - where you have an outline, - there are good times or bad times - but with every good time there is an ugly side to it. Remember, nobody would have learned of The Great War (which as you know Britain won) without hearing about the horrors of the trenches for many, many youngsters called up at very young ages…
RANA MITTER Britain won! But I think we had some help along the way, Sheila…
SHEILA LAWLOR I know. It was supposed to be an Allied victory, - but if you continue with the story - and this is also part of the new proposal, - right through the twenties and thirties - you find out - that all in the garden wasn’t rosy - and victory comes at a terrible price for countries, economically, and indeed, socially. So you can’t keep pretending that there is one view and this curriculum isn’t going to do that. By giving people the liberation of a longer framework to judge over time, - and remember, - it’s the special knowledge of history that you learn about the past as it evolved in its own way, - warts and all, - over time. And I think it’s marvellous that we’re going to get the opportunity to do this, - but it’ll need refinements - and everybody should write in [to the consultation process].
RANA MITTER OK, Dinah?
DINAH BIRCH Sheila mentions a really crucial point, which I think we’ve neglected so far in our discussion. The successful delivery of this curriculum, or any curriculum, - will depend on the enthusiasm and the commitment of excellent teachers, - and we have a lot of excellent teachers in this country. If we impose upon them the task of delivering a history curriculum which is simply impossible to cover (and I do think the detail of the curriculum as it is currently drafted is not feasible within the time allowed), - then most teachers will inevitably be alienated, demoralised, detached from their task, - and it is the children that will pay the price for that. We need to redraft this proposed curriculum, - so that it gives teachers some flexibility, - and actually gives them the possibility of covering , - what is asked of them.
TRISTRAM HUNT And I think that involves the Secretary of State stepping back and listening to the historical bodies, the associations, the teachers, and the teachers’ unions. The politics of this, are that he did do [consultations], - and there were lots of discussions, - then everything went quiet, - and as far as we can understand Michael took the draft history curriculum away for the weekend, - put in some of his language and inclinations - because he was basically attempting to please the Prime Minister - and out came this end product. I think we need to go back to where we were in December, - when there were proper grown-up constructive conversations happening about it.
RANA MITTER Well, some might say that it is actually quite pleasing that there is a Secretary of State that cares enough about history, - to want to take it away for the weekend.! One issue, that I’d just like to touch upon is the way that we sometimes give a rosy, tinted view of how history was studied in the past, - and we sometimes make a careless assumption that the kids today learn nothing except about the Nazis, (and I think that’s probably not true), but is it true, Stephen, that the older generation actually had a better understanding of the narrative, the chronology, and the facts?
STEPHEN DREW I don’t believe it is at all. I think one of the things you discover as you study history, (at whatever point), is that the past isn’t some rosy garden, - and that we haven’t at any point throughout history had some amazing education system where people have been so full of their story of their nation’s history that they understood what’s going on. I have conversations with members of my own family who are in their seventies or in their eighties, - who according to some versions may have been taught history at a time that [the curriculum] was fantastic, - and they don’t know who great figures of history are, they don’t know what the story is…
RANA MITTER Do they know the heptarchy?
STEPHEN DREW Absolutely not. One of the things that was said earlier, when you asked: “when was the heptarchy?”, - the answer historians often give is that - ‘I don’t need to know that, because it’s not my period’ – and, as an historian, you absolutely accept that. I am much stronger on studying history from 1700 to the present day, take me much further beyond that, and I’m not miles ahead of the stuff I’m teaching the children.
TRISTRAM HUNT I think one of the really exciting things in the classroom at the moment is (this can be an excuse for bad teaching or for brilliant teaching) is the use of IT facilities - which means you can get up incredible primary sources, - incredible details to excite the interest of pupils through that first-hand authenticity, - the looking at the scrolls – that looking at the stuff of history - which you can then build a bigger lesson on…
RANA MITTER And popular history, too, Dinah Birch? The Horrible Histories by Terry Deary are kind of big sellers, right?
DINAH BIRCH I’ve often thought that Terry Deary is unacknowledged as one of the most influential historians in the country. Whatever you may feel about the quality of his work he does engage the kids, certainly my own kids.
RANA MITTER These are the Horrible Histories…
STEPHEN DREW Can I ask why you think he engages children?
DINAH BIRCH It’s partly to do with the way in which the illustrations work - I’m talking about the books (and I’m talking about the books as they’re experienced by my own kids who are now in their mid-twenties) - it’s partly to do with the very clever (and I don’t mean that in a negative way) way in which he creates a sense of engagement with his audience and disengagement with authority, that irreverence…
SHEILA LAWLOR It’s right…
RANA MITTER Sheila Lawlor.
SHEILA LAWLOR It’s right because they are irreverent,- it’s like Roald Dahl, - you and the children are on the same side, - and you’re cocking a snook at these events!
STEPHEN DREW If children were reading the Horrible Histories books, would we have a massive problem with them reading them in a non-chronological order? Wouldn’t we just be pleased that they are interested in history? They might read the First World War one,- then they might go back to a Tudor one, - then they might read a twentieth century one, - and actually shouldn’t we just be pleased that, as children and as young people, they are interested in history? They read one of the books and they maybe want to visit somewhere else, - and therefore, actually, what we should be pleased about is - that they’re interested in it, - they’re excited by it, - it’s slightly irreverent for them, - and actually they might not understand the complete chronology of it, - they may not understand exactly what is going on, - but they get a sense of that history. It ties in with the way that we’ve taught history in schools for a number of years. We’ve focussed so much on the skills, - and we focus so much on making them into good historians, - and the content, - to some extent, - is somewhat secondary.
RANA MITTER I’m sorry but we’re getting to time, - and I want to just ask one question to all of you - and I want a very brief answer. In the end, is school’s teaching of history in Britain at the moment - basically ok - but needing a bit of adjustment - or does it need a fundamental change? Sheila?
SHEILA LAWLOR Fundamental change. They need to learn the pattern of what happens over time.
RANA MITTER Tristram Hunt?
TRISTRAM HUNT It’s absolutely clear from the very good Michael Maddison OFSTED reports - that teaching of history in schools - is fundamentally fine. What I’m happy to see is a further foregrounding of British history, - but what we don’t need to do - is to rip everything up and actually undermine the real progress of the last ten to fifteen years.
RANA MITTER Dinah Birch?
DINAH BIRCH I’m with Tristram here, I don’t want to see a demolition job. I think a lot of good work is happening. It’s not perfect, there are opportunities for change, and development, and those are what we should take forward.
RANA MITTER And the man that is actually doing the teaching, Stephen?
STEPHEN DREW I think your question was unfair in the first place. Because the only things you offer were - ‘it’s fine’ - or ‘bad’, - I think the teaching of history in schools in Britain is outstanding, - and I have been to schools all over the country, - and I have seen outstanding history teachers delivering outstanding lessons. They are passionate, - and they care deeply about what they’re doing. Yes, - of course we can change! Yes, -of course we can improve! But- actually I don’t think we need to change something that isn’t fundamentally broken.
RANA MITTER Well, I would expect nothing less from a group of such distinguished historians as complete disagreement, - so I’m glad to leave that particular chronicle to end there, - but no doubt the next episode will be taken up sooner rather than later.
Many thanks to all of my guests today; Sheila Lawlor, Tristram Hunt; Dinah Birch; and Stephen Drew.
We must stop Britain turning into a land without memory
29th March, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, by Charles Moore
It may enrage some historians, but Education Secretary Michael Gove is right that children should learn things by heart
Four centuries ago, John Donne wrote a poem called “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”. Because of the call of pleasure or business, the author is riding to the west, away from Jesus, who will rise (there is a pun on “sun” and “son”) in the east. He knows he should not be doing this, but he is “almost glad” to be facing the wrong way because the day of Christ’s suffering is something he cannot bear to see.
Donne is conscious that Jesus sees him, though, from the Cross. He asks Jesus to punish him for turning his back on him, and so improve him that he may become the image of Christ, fit to look upon: “Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace, / That thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.”
In honour of this poem, which I have always admired, I decided to mark its 400 years by riding westward on Good Friday yesterday. It was penitentially cold, and my horse, probably not out of piety, was anxious to turn back and gallop east, in the direction of his stable. I had to struggle to keep him going forward.
I reflected, on our anniversary journey, of how our civilisation has changed since Donne rode and wrote. On almost any measure – of health, literacy, longevity, civil peace, parliamentary democracy, science, transport, the emancipation of women, prosperity, dentistry – things have got better. Only someone who knows very little about life in 1613 could say that he would rather have been alive then than now. I felt pleased that I would soon be back home in my warm house with all mod cons.
But there is a couplet in the poem which made me pause. Speaking of the narrative of the Passion, Donne says: “Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye, / They are present yet unto my memory.” He was writing in a culture when certain things of overwhelming importance were present in the memory of virtually every human being. We do not live in such a culture, and it shows.
Partly, of course, it is a matter of technology. Bertie Wooster had to ask Jeeves for information and the 99.999 per cent of people who lacked a valet for the purpose had to burnish their own memory. Now we can almost all Google. This is the mental equivalent of the microwave, and very useful it is.
I notice, however, that the decline of memory also has an ideological component. If you look at the extraordinary rows that have broken out about Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum for history, you will see what I mean.
What Mr Gove is proposing is a return to narrative. He wants children to know the history of this country in the right order, from the Stone Age to now. On this basis, they should also build knowledge of European history and world history. He is suspicious of the emphasis in the current history curriculum on learning “skills” (such as the evaluation of different sources) if these skills are divorced from the framework of chronology and wider acquaintance with history. He notices the stupefying boredom, complication and bad exams which this emphasis has produced. He thinks it is better to know the names and dates of our kings and queens than to be plunged into comparing the attitudes of different historians to an isolated historical problem.
All this is sensible, though no doubt parts of it are difficult to implement. Yet it has enraged some distinguished historians. They hate the idea that children might have to learn facts. They use the tired old references to Dickens’s flinty-faced hardware merchant Mr Gradgrind (“Facts alone are what is wanted in life”) that I have heard trotted out in every argument about education for 30 or 40 years. They protest at “rote learning”. They regard the notion that things need to be remembered as offensive.
They also hate the suggestion that some things are more worth learning than others. Richard Evans is the Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. Inexplicably, given his views, he was offered a knighthood by this Government and, equally inexplicably, given his views, he accepted it. He has berated his fellow professor, Simon Schama, who has helped Mr Gove, for speaking warmly of “a sense of shared memory”. This is insulting, he thinks, to British people of different racial origins. It would be better to teach our Afro-Caribbean citizens the history of Benin and Oyo, for example.
Sir Richard suspects that we are threatened with “celebratory history”. He cannot bear to think that pupils might be taught that good old British Wellington won the battle of Waterloo: the true victors were Blucher and his Germans. Professor David Cannadine, another prominent historian, thinks that Mr Gove’s ideas are “blinkered” because they centre on the history of Britain. He mocks the idea that children aged five or six could “debate and discuss the concept of nation”.
Professional historians are right to be chary of history as propaganda or as good, but untrue stories (for example, there is no evidence that Alfred burnt the cakes). But it is surely a fundamentally wrong attitude to education which says that children should not learn some things indelibly. It is essential that, from very early on, some things become literally unforgettable. Children’s elders need to work out what those things are, and then make sure that they learn them, whether or not, at the time of learning, they fully understand.
This, after all, is how language itself works. A child starts to wield a word before he or she quite knows what it means. He imitates, at first; but from imitation, comprehension gradually flows. He hears a rhyme, and he likes its noise and enjoys repeating it, often before grasping fully what it is about. He hears a story, or a prayer, and bits of it stir him. The more of it he remembers, the more it will gradually mean to him.
It is also natural for knowledge to emanate outwards. One learns things first from one’s family, then from one’s teachers, then from the wider society and media. By analogy, this is the only sensible way to learn history. You will naturally want to learn first about the country in which you live. Contrary to Professor Cannadine, the concept of nation has a meaning for the very young, as anyone who travels abroad with small children will attest. Your own country is the most accessible model for understanding all countries, just as mastery of your own language helps you master other ones. It is a matter of working with the materials to hand.
If all this is denied, what happens is that the well-educated become very privileged and everyone else is cut off. The Evanses and Cannadines and other priests of knowledge can move freely in the world they have created for themselves, but the millions who have never really learnt anything important are held down in ignorance.
It is an extraordinary feature of the great religions that they are the only known structures of ideas and stories which deal with this problem. The teachings and life of Jesus were once known to all Europeans, and resonated just as much (possibly more) with the poor as with the mighty. John Donne knew that the memory on which he relied was one shared by all classes. Today, bogus egalitarianism has killed memory among uneducated people, and therefore increased social division. Experts attack “rote learning”, but I prefer the phrase “learning by heart”. Head and heart together is what we need, but our culture has separated them.
The Moral Maze debate
28th March, 18.00: TRANSCRIPTION COMPLETED BY HISTORYWORKSTV (see pasted BELOW - NB in process of edit and proof-reading so if you find any mistakes, please DM me @historyworkstv) - I'll tweet when checking & sign-off is completed
27th March, BBC Radio 4, "The Moral Maze" - Duration: 43 minutes First broadcast: 20.00 Wednesday 27 March 2013
History Curriculum debate on Radio 4's THE MORAL MAZE with witnesses: Chris McGovern, Antony Beevor, Sir Richard Evans, Matthew Wilkinson
George Orwell (who is soon to have his statue erected outside New Broadcasting House) said 'Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.'
Education Secretary Michael Gove is bringing in a new school history syllabus. The story of Britain will be taught in chronological order from the first year of primary school to the age of 14, finishing with the election of Margaret Thatcher. The emphasis will be on facts and dates. There will be no more of those essay assignments that begin 'Imagine you're a slave bound for the West Indies ...'
Is it right to put Britain at the centre of the story and to mention foreigners only insofar as they have impinged upon our nation (and vice very much versa)? Or is it more moral to teach children the history of the planet because we are all citizens of the world?
Should history teachers be aiming to turn out good citizens with shared moral values? If so - whose values? Is it more important to teach national pride or national humility? Is an emphasis on 'cultural sensitivity' just left-wing propaganda in disguise?
And is it right that a politician should be able to dictate the history syllabus in the first place? Some of the precedents for it - in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Mao's China - are not encouraging.
Moral Maze: Should history lessons teach patriotism, national humility, citizenship or scepticism?
First Broadcast: BBC, 27 Mar 2013
CREDITS: BBC Production Team
Chair: Michael Buerk
Producer: Peter Everett
Series Researcher: Kathryn Blennerhasett
Chris McGovern - Chairman, The Campaign for Real Education
Antony Beevor - Historian
Sir Richard Evans - Regius Professor of History and President of Woolfson College, University of Cambridge
Matthew Wilkinson - Director and Principal Researcher Curriculum for Cohesion.
LINK TO THE AUDIO
(see pasted BELOW - NB in process of edit and proof-reading so if you find any mistakes, please DM me @historyworkstv and then I'll tweet when checking & sign-off is completed)
MICHAEL BUERK (CHAIR) Good evening, - Michael Gove has a face seemingly made to stare out of posters, and his new glasses are slightly sinister in a retro kind of way - but it is still difficult to see the former panellist on this programme - in the world of 'Big Brother'. Certainly, the education secretary is trying to rewrite history, - or at least the history syllabus in schools, - and it’s quite true that a slice of the history establishment regards this as an Orwellian attempt to control the past.
What’s fascinating is how this ill-tempered tussle over what is to be taught, raises big moral questions about what, not just history- but education as a whole - is for.
Mr Gove wants school history to be the story of Britain told in sequence with facts and dates. His critics see it as Anglocentric rote learning, insufficiently attentive to other cultures. One of our most distinguished historians has dismissed it as “history for football hooligans, preparation for a pub quiz.”
Mr Gove’s supporters ridicule the present syllabus - as long on bogus empathy and short on facts - producing children who think that they know what it was like to be a slave - but are convinced that Churchill was a talking dog!
Behind this dust-up are unresolved arguments about the purpose of teaching history. Is it about identity or shared values? If so, what identity, which values? To instil national pride or national humility? Is it about us or the world in which we live? A framework of knowledge or a tool for sceptical analysis? Above all, who should control the past? As Orwell said “Who controls the past controls the future.”
It’s our Moral Maze tonight, the panel; Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas; Anne McElvoy, Public Policy Editor of The Economist; Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA; and Giles Fraser, Priest at St Mary’s, Newington, and radical opinionator at large.
MICHAEL BUERK Giles, what is education for, history education in particular?
GILES FRASIER It is there to expand the imagination. I think that is the great thing that history does, I mean it can show us that the world is a bigger place than the sort of narrow, temporal slice of it that we exist in at the moment, and that there is just extraordinarily other ways of being.
MICHAEL BUERK Claire?
CLAIRE FOX I suppose it’s to introduce people to the concept of historical thinking, even though that sounds obvious. But you have to have a sense of chronology, periodization, timeline, and I think that that’s been missing recently. I do actually think that you need a framework on which you can handle all the analysis and the values and all the rest of it. So for me, you’ve got to be able to realise that 'the past was a foreign country'.
MICHAEL BUERK Matthew?
MATTHEW TAYLOR I think history can contribute to children’s moral development but particularly if it engages children, if it connects with them, and if it enables them to understand the world they live in today. And I’m not sure that facts, chronology for the sake of it, or nationalism, really helps.
MICHAEL BUERK Anne?
ANNE MCELVOY It’s about thinking [out] of your own time, which is actually incredibly hard to do, - and to do this with any useful result you do need to know some facts, be able to assemble some evidence, and then you can have interpretation, - but you can only really do that in that order.
MICHAEL BUERK Panel, thanks very much indeed there. Our first witness is Richard Evans, who is Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College at Cambridge. You’ve been pretty scathing about these proposed changes, - why should they amount to education for the “football hooligan on the terraces”? - I think was one of your jibes.
RICHARD EVANS First of all, these proposed changes I think are NOT necessary if you look at the existing national history curriculum which, remember, only goes up to the age of 14. It does not include GCSEs and A'Levels (which are the province of examination boards) but the existing curriculum does have British history as its centre and it does have a chronological...
MICHAEL BUERK Sorry, the question was - why have you described this as education for the “football hooligans on the terraces” - can you just explain why?
RICHARD EVANS Because the existing curriculum has not only British history as its centre in key stages 2 and 3, (12 up to 14) but also has some history of other countries and of the world - ie Europe and global history as well. So it does, I think, teach children that there are civilisations, other countries, other histories. But the new one, Mr Gove’s proposal, doesn’t do that at all. It just looks at British histories! It is therefore going to bring up a generation of kids who know nothing about the history of other countries outside the UK.
MICHAEL BUERK Claire?
CLAIRE FOX I might come back to that Professor Evans, - but if I could just ask you the question we were asked, - What’s the purpose of history education for you? What is the key thing it has to do?
RICHARD EVANS The key thing is to teach children to develop their own ideas, their own skills, reach their own judgements about the big issues in history, the big questions in history - to make them, in a sense, capable of independent judgement as adults - and to teach them something about the 'foreign country' that is the past - to realise that there are other civilisations, other worlds, other ways of thinking and other ways of behaving - and in that sense, to help make them more tolerant, - but also reach judgements about what they think is good and what they think is bad. So, I do think there is an element of morality in there.
CLAIRE FOX Yes, so when they grow up they can make those independent judgements- but we’ve only got until 14 [covering the history curriculum]- so it is therefore only up until you’re 14 [that we are able to give schoolchildren] that framework of periodization - you know, the facts, the detail - the critical analysis happens later on. But you need something which you CAN critically analyse,- isn’t the core therefore what Gove suggested?
RICHARD EVANS Well no, because facts don’t have any meaning by themselves, they are always tied into interpretations and narratives. How are you going to test kids on their knowledge of the facts with which Mr Gove wants to pack the history curriculum? Do you have multiple choice tests? You know; the Battle of Hastings happened in A: 1066; B: 1485; C: 1688? There’s no other way of testing historical knowledge except in conjunction with interpretation and argument.
CLAIRE FOX But interpreting what? ( I suppose has to be my question) because one of the things I’m concerned about is - this sounds kind of like a social deconstruction class for 11 year olds - I mean, seriously, in terms of what we’re expecting kids under 14 to do, surely we equip them (which I think Gove is saying really) with a familiarity with the event, the periodization and the sense of chronology?
RICHARD EVANS Of course that’s important but it comes together with interpretation and argument. You can’t have the two separated. You can’t teach kids facts - then ask questions about them - they have to be taken together...
CLAIRE FOX isn't that with prior knowledge?
RICHARD EVANS No it’s not, it’s an absolute because facts are always tied to a narrative! It’s an absolute nonsense also that Mr Gove is proposing to try and teach 9 or 10 year olds extremely complicated things like the philosophy of John Locke, or [teaching] 5 and 6 year olds about Anglo Saxon history.
CLAIRE FOX But I think it’s an interesting thing that you think it’s difficult to teach them the philosophy of John Locke, which I’d agree, - but you actually want them to have a sophisticated analysis of all sides of the argument and different interpretations...
RICHARD EVANS It’s tailored to the age. The current history curriculum is tailored to the age of the kids, - the proposed new one is NOT. It’s too packed with facts, it divorces them from skills and interpretation...
CLAIRE FOX Skills, skills, skills.
RICHARD EVANS Yes, skills. The skills of historical analysis which is at the core of...
CLAIRE FOX Without the core of the [historical facts] - there is no point [in] the skills
RICHARD EVANS...recognising chronology and the influence of one event on another, or one thing on another. That is part of the skills that they learn, of course. The first thing they learn in the current curriculum is to distinguish between different periods.
MICHAEL BUERK Anne McElvoy?
ANNE MCELVOY What’s wrong with the idea of history for a pub quiz?
RICHARD EVANS Because it’s not education.
ANNE MCELVOY Why not?
RICHARD EVANS Because education is about understanding, it’s about learning. It’s not about rote-learning of facts. Facts are important of course but not just by themselves. How are you going to test it? I come back to this, how are you going to test this kind of knowledge?
ANNE MCELVOY Yes but I think the problem with your position is really that you sound like there’s a sort of producer interest here. That you’re a professional historian who’s very high level and you’re also surrounded by history students that are pretty high level, and therefore you want everybody else to approach history in this way. Now what is wrong with the Secretary of State in this case, or anyone saying that there’s just a basic story and there are quite a lot of bits in it that we think people should know about? After that, you can then get into your argument about critical interpretation and many other things, but there is only so much time and there is only so much scope that you can put into this unless you are, of course, the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University...
RICHARD EVANS Absolutely, of course, but Gove is packing far too much in. You know kids at primary school have one hour of history a week and he’s prescribing an enormous length of detail. Niall Ferguson has complained about this and said Michael Gove did not take his advice, there’s too much detail...
ANNE MCELVOY I just want to get off practical curriculum issues. What is wrong, tell me again more clearly, (maybe I’m just being a bit dim here) what is wrong with people just knowing that certain things are connected, that there is a certain body of knowledge, certain facts and connections that you would expect them to know?
RICHARD EVANS You already conceded my point. You’re talking about connections and the connections are again between economies, society, culture, politics. They’re all kinds of connections that kids need to learn about gradually in an age appropriate way. Not just individual discreet facts as are listed in Mr Gove’s proposals
ANNE MCELVOY Mr Gove isn’t planning to ban connections is he?
RICHARD EVANS He doesn’t say anything about them. If you look at the existing national curriculum..
ANNE MCELVOY Well, let’s give his idea the benefit of the doubt.
RICHARD EVANS No I don’t propose to give him the benefit of the doubt...
ANNE MCELVOY You see, that’s the problem. Why, because politically you disagree with him?
RICHARD EVANS No it’s not because of that. He’s been attacked by many conservative historians. He’s been attacked by the entire historical profession; the Royal Historical Society, a well-known bunch of Marxists; the Historical Association; all the history teachers...
ANNE MCELVOY What about you? There’s something that riles you particularly about this approach that doesn’t just seem to be about the facts.
RICHARD EVANS Yes. You may not know but I have two school-age children who are studying history themselves at school, and I’ve seen the way they’ve been taught history which I think is absolutely excellent.
ANNE MCELVOY Do you?
RICHARD EVANS It’s following the national curriculum. There are some problems later on, particularly in GCSE and A'Level with the repetition of content, which I think IS a real problem, but the way is taught is excellent...
ANNE MCELVOY So we’ve established that the system isn’t perfect as it stands...
RICHARD EVANS Don’t sound so surprised, you obviously haven’t read the OFSTED report: "History For All"...
ANNE MCELVOY No, but I have read what my children have been taught at school...
RICHARD EVANS …it concludes that history is in a state of rude & good health in schools. The idea that there’s too little British history taught is a myth, (quote unquote the OFSTED report), it quotes many students it’s questioned in 166 schools. What do they say - what do they say they most like?...
ANNE MCELVOY I must move onto something…I really don’t want any more of the OFSTED report. If we can just get one extra question in...
RICHARD EVANS …what do kids most like about history? It’s the ability to make up their own minds about things: that's what Mr Gove proposes to take away...
ANNE MCELVOY ...Just very quickly, if politicians aren’t the right people to write the history syllabus, who should write it and is there a built-in assumption here that historians know best?
RICHARD EVANS Yes, absolutely! Because it’s not a political point. Mr Gove wants to write a Tory version of history, no doubt Tony Benn, if you gave him the power would write a labour version of history. History is not political indoctrination it's about making up your own mind!
ANNE MCELVOY So it’s the 'trade union of historians' here?
RICHARD EVANS It’s not the 'trade union of historians', it’s the entire profession! The existing curriculum has broad support right across the board. The new one has total opposition across the board. There is something wrong here.
MICHAEL BUERK Claire?
CLAIRE FOX Can I just clarify then, don’t let the politicians write it, let the historians write it. Therefore. historians you would say bring to it no moral prejudice at all or no political prejudice at all. I mean are you therefore saying that there is a set of historical ideas and facts that you can introduce to them?
RICHARD EVANS No, of course historians disagree - but that’s one of the key things to get across to kids - that historians DO have a point of view. It’s not a bunch of facts that they have to accept.
CLAIRE FOX So, therefore, I don’t necessarily know that I’d have academic historians write the curriculum because that is going to be as prejudiced as anyone else, that’s all I’m saying...
RICHARD EVANS (CHECK: ) Oh no! it’s educational professionals writing the curriculum? Of course they’re in touch with the academic professionals!
MICHAEL BUERK Sir Richard Evans, thank you very much indeed. Our next witness is Antony Beevor, the historian and author of course, and one of fifteen eminent historians who have signed a letter to The Times broadly backing the Gove proposals. What is history for? Morality, citizenship and knowledge of your own identity?
ANTONY BEEVOR None of the above. It is about understanding, and to achieve that understanding you’ve obviously got to have a certain framework. I think one of the problems with the current system is we have these modules which are all over the place. I mean you can go backwards or forwards or whatever. And one sees, in say literature, that many people don’t know who came first, whether it was Shakespeare or Dickens. I think this is a serious worry. I think that one certainly needs that framework to start with, and obviously we need a certain number of facts, but the point that the curriculum proposals made clear is that is the basis before you develop into depth.
MICHAEL BUERK Matthew?
MATTHEW TAYLOR I think one of the things history gives children is a capacity to better interpret their own times. Now of course there will be many young teenagers in this country who assume that recession is a natural state of affairs. Now I would have thought in order to better understand their own economic plight there are two things which should be really interesting for even quite young children to study. One would be the US depression because that is the most similar time in history - it’s not the most recent history, it’s not chronological really, history is bumpy in that way - and secondly to understand that the economy is a truly global system, it is not simply the system that we look at from Britain. Wouldn’t the Gove curriculum actually make it harder for children to have access to either of those things? Firstly it isn’t really about Britain and we’re supposed to study about Britain, and the second is that we’re persuaded to look at things from a British perspective rather than a global perspective?
ANTONY BEEVOR I think that most countries in Europe basically teach a core of the national subject and then develop out from there and I think that the Gove proposals do that to a large degree...
MATTHEW TAYLOR But they wouldn’t for example study the US depression - particularly because it’s an event in America, it’s not an event in Britain - even though it’s a profoundly important event, isn’t it? The children really ought to, particularly at a time like this.
ANTONY BEEVOR I think that you’ll find when they get into the 1920s and one’s looking at the sort of wider perspectives, Soviet Russia and Germany and so forth, then that will become the natural place for it to come into. I’m all for more international history even within this particular thing but I think it’s a question of time. When you’ve only got an hour a week there have to be certain priorities.
MATTHEW TAYLOR Well then let’s not then just talk about priorities, let’s talk about whole perspectives. Let’s fast forward thirty years and imagine the children in class learning about the Cypriot financial restructuring that’s taking place this week. Is there only going to be one interpretation of that, the British interpretation? Or will they need to learn the Russian interpretation, the German interpretation, the Greek interpretation? People’s views of the events taking place are profoundly different.
ANTONY BEEVOR Sure but we’re talking here about current affairs…
MATTHEW TAYLOR But I’m saying in thirty years, looking back on it. We need to understand that there’s not just a British perspective on something like this.
ANTONY BEEVOR Yes that’s certainly true but I think that when we’ve got - I mean here they’re ending history with the fall of the Soviet Union and I think that that is probably a fairly good cut-off point. But obviously the revolution that we were actually, we’ve experienced during that particular period, it wasn’t just the collapse of the Soviet Union...
MATTHEW TAYLOR But that’s my point, my point is that historical events are subject to multiple interpretations. The point about the Gove approach is that you learn a lot in a shallow way rather than a smaller amount in a deep way. I suppose what I’m arguing is that when you look at an issue, like for example the global economic crisis or the 30s, it’s only if you understand it in depth that you get to understand that history is contested. If you do it in a shallow way you only do it from one perspective and that seems to be the intention of this reform.
ANTONY BEEVOR This is surely coming along in later stages when they’re getting on to GCSE…
MATTHEW TAYLOR So they can only really get their heads round the idea that there are different ways of thinking about things when they’re old?
ANTONY BEEVOR I think that they need to develop a certain basis of knowledge before they can go on then into depth.
MICHAEL BUERK Giles Fraser
GILES FRASER This sort of approach has been referred to by Richard Evans as the pub quiz approach to history. If I just develop that pub image a moment - if you meet someone in the pub and they’re just banging on about how wonderful they are, how wonderful their past is, how wonderful all the things they’ve achieved are, you actually think they’re a bit insecure. Isn’t this the history of decadence about how we’re just trying to big ourselves up - and actually it’s rather sad, actually?
ANTONY BEEVOR No, no, I don’t see any patriotism banging drum in this at all.
GILES FRASER The story of our national story? And this is the sort of great patriotic…
ANTONY BEEVOR But one sees it’s a question of the achievements and the follies. And my goodness there have been follies along the way - which we have committed and crimes as well, - and those are all part of, if you like, that rich tapestry or whatever you want to call it...
GILES FRASER But isn’t that because you agree with it? You fundamentally agree with the sort of ideology that’s impregnated in this…
ANTONY BEEVOR It’s not an ideology
GILES FRASER …about reading, writing and Rule Britannia as being part of the narrative that’s going on here?
ANTONY BEEVOR No, it’s absolutely wrong for history to be used as a teaching to be used for patriotism or anything like that! I’m totally against that. History should be there so that people understand how developments and particularly historical developments occurred, whether it’s a question of what they call significant individuals and their decisions or whether it’s economic and social change.
GILES FRASER And it can be value neutral? You can teach it value neutrally?
ANTONY BEEVOR I don’t think that anybody can be totally value neutral but I think that one can certainly make the biggest effort possible to be value neutral.
GILES FRASER So if it’s not value neutral there will be a value impregnated within this narrative - and people would see that about your history - the fact that you were an army officer in the Hussars - that would perhaps influence the way in which you did your history.
ANTONY BEEVOR It may have influenced the way I did history in the past but I don’t think if you read most of the reviews that my books are judged in that particular way.
MICHAEL BUERK Antony Beevor, thanks very much indeed. Our next witness is Dr Matthew Wilkinson who is Research Fellow at Cambridge Muslim College and Principal Researcher on the Curriculum for Cohesion. Whatever is that?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Curriculum for Cohesion is a collaboration of teachers, academics and employers that are looking to develop effective humanities education for young people in the 21st century.
MICHAEL BUERK And what does that mean?
MATTHEW WILKINSON That means humanities education that enables children to relate to themselves, their communities, their country and the wider world and be effective in the place of work where they find themselves.
MICHAEL BUERK So cohesion in terms of a multi-ethnic society, is that what you are saying?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Yes, cohesion both internally in terms of who they are as people and in terms of relating to other people with whom they find themselves in society.
MICHAEL BUERK Anne McElvoy?
ANNE MCELVOY So would it be fair to Dr Wilkinson to say that you think that citizenship and integration are two of the main purposes of history teaching and what it should promote?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Yes that would be fair. I actually think it’s not me saying that, when I’ve researched children what they are looking for from history is to have a strong civic understanding of the country and where we’ve got to.
ANNE MCELVOY But I just wondered that you might’ve put the cart before the horse here - in that citizenship and integration follow from an understanding of where you are now - and how that relates to your past and your country’s past? And that trying to put it the other way round is instrumentalising what should primarily be an academic study?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well, I think with any educational pursuit you need to have an idea of where you’re heading with any discipline. You need to have an idea of the human being or range of possibilities of the human being you’re trying to develop. History is no different from that, you need to know what you think an educated person gets through history and you need to head for that, so that’s why…
ANNE MCELVOY Sorry, who needs to know and who needs to decide? It sounds awfully like you’ve got this purpose - an application of history - and that would imply that you have a certain view, a certain kind of history you’d like taught.
MATTHEW WILKINSON No, idon’t think that’s the case. I’m just saying that with any educational system or pursuit you have an idea of what an educated person is before you design an effective discipline to deliver that person.
ANNE MCELVOY And the idea about how much of history is (a big argument has gone on tonight) - how much of the body of knowledge and how much is the critical tool? How important is it to you that it should provoke people to be critical, sceptical, even a bit cynical about the times they live in?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Critical, yes. Cynical, no. Sceptical, depends on what you’re looking at.
ANNE MCELVOY So where would you like people to be more critical as a result of the history that they learn in school?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well, we live in the digital information age - kids will leave school and at school and even during their time at school [they will be] bombarded with different types of information of various degrees of reliability and credibility. They need to be able to decode what information is worth believing in...
ANNER MCELVOY How on earth is history going to do that for them, unless you’re assuming that you’re going to teach them a certain approach that says - distrust the products of the capitalist system - or whatever you might want to teach?
MATTHEW WILKINSON I think that one of the great things that history can teach you is that how people view events that really have happened change and also each event is viewable in a multiplicity of ways. That’s one of the great things that history can show children.
ANNE MCELVOY Is that the only thing it shows children? Doesn’t it, apart from endless relativism, doesn’t it show something else? Might it not show that there are certain values that you find important that you believe in, that should be carried on?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well, yes absolutely! One would definitely want from examination of great events of the past (Holocaust, Slavery, British Empire) that kids interrogate their own values and they come to understand what they believe and why they believe it more deeply.
ANNE MCELVOY Sorry, there’s some tension there because on the one hand you want them to interrogate deeply - I’m not quite clear how much you want it to be critical and how much you want it to be knowledge based?
MATTHEW WILKINSON I don’t see those two things as in any way in opposition. You can’t be critical if you don’t have knowledge and you can’t have knowledge if you’re not prepared to be critical about it.
ANNE MCELVOY So you quite like the knowledge based curriculum proposed by Mr Gove?
MATTHEW WILKINSON No I don’t. I like the aims - but the content I find unsatisfactory.
MICHAEL BUERK Claire Fox
CLAIRE FOX When you started you talked about the curriculum for cohesion as allowing children to relate to themselves, their country, the multi-ethnic society we live in today - those kind of issues. That, I just wondered, sounds like a citizenship relevance agenda there, it doesn’t sound like anything to do with history?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well, I think the moment the state puts their hand on the history curriculum you’ve already got citizenship relevance being brought in to bear. So if you have a national curriculum for history which is designed by agents of the state you’ve already got something which is...
CLAIRE FOX There has been for quite a while - were you happy when for example Alan Johnson as Education Minister said that the history curriculum was ideal for teaching multiculturalism and anti-racism? Do you think that was ok?
MATTHEW WILKINSON What I think about those things is if you think about racism - you can see by the study of history that the values that nowadays coalesce around racism - are things that are actually very modern and relevant…
CLAIRE FOX Then is history only for studying today? That’s what I can’t understand.
MATTHEW WILKINSON As far as children are…
CLAIRE FOX English Civil War…
MATTHEW WILKINSON That’s a very good example. As far as children are concerned - you cannot understand the political complexion of what has arisen - without understanding the events of the English Civil War.
CLAIRE FOX Is the purpose only that they understand the complexion of the contemporary world? That’s what I’m trying to ask you. You keep citing “children say this”…
MATTHEW WILKINSON Not only. I think children must be given the tools to decode their present as best they can. Also...
CLAIRE FOX Is it not possible that we just give them the tools to understand how to think historically and to understand what happened in the past? I mean you’re just emphasizing today, we’re trying to talk about history. What would be rather contemptuous of history...
MATTHEW WILKINSON No, I think that a distinction needs to be made between academic history and school history up to the age of fourteen which is what we’re talking about at the moment. [We would want the] 98% of kids that leave school to leave with a great curiosity for the past, for what happened and some core knowledge of history by which they can look around them and understand things better. I think that’s very important. An academic historian would get more into the past for its own sake. I don't think many kids at school would do that...
CLAIRE FOX I cannot understand at all why you are objecting to this particular curriculum because it seems to me that it gives exactly what you’ve just said. Post-fourteen, you basically can go off and explore as much as you want but you have to have knowledge of past events, chronology and so on.
MATTHEW WILKINSON Can I just pick that up, quickly? Curriculum for Cohesion and I myself agree very strongly with the aims of this curriculum. All kids should leave school with critical habits of mind and a strong civic knowledge of the country,- however, the way this curriculum is going about it in terms of the content is undeliverable, it’s unteachable and…
CLAIRE FOX That’s a practical problem and I…
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well this is the curriculum…
CLAIRE FOX That’s a practical problem, we’re talking about the morality of it. Just finally - just in terms of priorities - it’s been called too Anglocentric, [it’s been said that] it doesn’t look at the world enough. If you’ve only got until fourteen and you’ve got to decide what to teach, how can you prioritise it other than by making certain decisions like that?
MATTHEW WILKINSON Well, I can say that. What should have been done is that - what is absolutely core about the British national story of course should have been there - but you cannot in todays globalised worlds - I think, as we speak, David Cameron I think is leading business leaders around India and the Middle East…
CLAIRE FOX We’re back to David’s politics, it’s got nothing to do with history…
MATTHEW WILKINSON No we’re not, we’re talking about the world that children are going to have to be effective in and have to have an historical understanding of. That’s where this curriculum is a retrospective curriculum, looking back to the world as it was in the 1950s, not…
CLAIRE FOX That’s called history!
MICHAEL BUERK Thank you Dr Wilkinson, thank you very much indeed. Our last witness is Chris McGovern who is a former state school history teacher and more recently the head of a London prep school. More to the point he is Chairman of The Campaign for Real Education, which presupposes that history teaching is not real. In what way is it not real?
CHRIS MCGOVERN Shall I give you an example? One of the most widely used textbooks in secondary schools at the moment deals with the 18th and 19th century - and in order to denigrate this country - it proposes that children investigate evidence (which is very much the fashionable approach). The problem with the evidence is that they manufacture it. So they look at people who are now dead and they say - this is what they would say - if they could come back from the dead. So for example, Princess Lakshmi of India would say “The British shot cannon balls through us at point blank range”. They also have Cecil Rhodes and they invent what he said, so it’s the undead speaking. That’s fake history, that’s not real history.
MICHAEL BUERK Giles Fraser?
GILES FRASER Do you think history should be morally neutral?
CHRIS MCGOVERN Yes, history is not a vehicle for anything, it should be morally neutral as far as it can be.
GILES FRASER What does that mean? Who gets to decide what’s in the story?
CHRIS MCGOVERN Right, history shouldn’t be a vehicle, for example, for teaching a particular attitude, patriotism, or denigration of the country. It shouldn’t be a vehicle for teaching anything.
GILES FRASER But all stories are going to have a moral valance to them aren’t they? The story of who chooses the history story and how we tell our story has a moral valance to it.
CHRIS MCGOVERN Well this is the great thing about Mr Gove’s syllabus in fact. Though he sets out some landmark events, for example, he covers ancient Rome and he covers ancient Greece (there’s a lot of things happened in ancient Rome and ancient Greece) and he leaves it to the teachers to decide.
GILES FRASER So the teacher gets to tell…
CHRIS MCGOVERN The great thing is that this curriculum actually only sets out headings and it gives out much more freedom to the teacher than is currently the case.
GILES FRASER But you’ve just said earlier in your answer to your first question - that people are using history to denigrate this country - which makes me suspect that you would like to use history to big up this country, for us to feel slightly better about ourselves, certainly not to denigrate it. There at least is a moral position about the way that history is being used as a way of supporting a certain sort of national story, a certain sort of self-identity.
CHRIS MCGOVERN It’s a false assumption. I do not believe history should be used to promote patriotism. Nor do I believe it should be used to denigrate the country. Currently it is often used to denigrate the country.
GILES FRASER But I think it’s dangerous because it’s smuggled in. You have this fact-value distinction. You think that that history can be taught as value neutral - and that worries me - because when you present yourself as being value neutral it’s the best way to usher in values as if they’re not there. And every way you tell a story you’re actually emphasizing a particular thing, you’re emphasizing a particular world view, and a particular sort of morality, and if you do it fromm the top, the bottom, you are inevitably talking about values.
CHRIS MCGOVERN People will always draw moral points from stories. When we talk about Romulus and Remus for example, (I mean we’ve not talked about five year olds who are the most important age group in my opinion), there are moral issues about Romulus and Remus but I mean children have to have stories. They have the same stories when they’re five as the Romans had (we tell the stories of Romulus and Remus), children want those stories and of course you can draw a moral judgement from them.
GILES FRASER Yeah but the moral bit doesn’t come after it, it comes before! Deciding what stories you’re going to tell in the first place. Do you have this idea that the facts are out there and you pick them up and you go away and decide which ones are of value? The ones you pick up, they in their self display a sense of what you think is important, whether it’s right or wrong.
CHRIS MCGOVERN And the great thing about Mr Gove’s syllabus is that he allows teachers to make most of those judgements. But there is a law which says, it’s a 96 education act, you must not promote political bias so we have protection from the law.
GILES FRASER And the people I’m most worried by are the people that pretend they don’t do political bias and this is a curriculum written by a politician.
CHRIS MCGOVERN Well we don’t actually know whether he wrote it or not.
MICHAEL BUERK Matthew?
MATTHEW TAYLOR I know this isn’t rally fair but can I ask you to make a choice between two views of history: is history fundamentally a body of facts? is your view that history is a body of facts and we’re going to pour them into children? Or is your view that history is inside children and we need to show them and help them find out how?
CHRIS MCGOVERN History is an account of the past. That’s all it is. The unique thing about history, and it is the only unique thing, is that it is knowledge of the past. Everything else you can get from Hilary Mantel, Sleeping Beauty or The Hobbit. All these concepts of continuity and change, of chronology, go for fiction. I’ve done research which proves that fiction is more effective and in fact in schools today we have teachers using fiction to teach the historical skills.
MATTHEW TAYLOR So why do you think, I’m just interested, why do you think there has been a huge growth in people’s interest in family trees? Now they want to understand their history but they want to understand it because it tells them something about themselves. The reason why people find it so fascinating is because history shines a light on who they are. Now isn’t that a reasonable way of thinking about history, that it is about shining a light on who we are now, today?
CHRIS MCGOVERN History does tell us who we are, it tells us where we’ve come from. It’s like a route map to tell us where we’ve come from, then signposts are the landmarks of history.
MATTHEW TAYLOR So let’s take something like the British Empire. So if you’re teaching history to a multi-ethnic group of students - Empire has made them all who they are in various ways,- isn’t it inevitable therefore that you’ll have to get into a whole set of debates about values and competing issues of history rather than say here are a set of facts from the British perspective?
CHRIS MCGOVERN I think we have, as I said earlier, we have to be neutral. I think there are big issues when we start talking about the Empire for example. I’ve had discussions with the black community about the role of Mary Seacole, - who is in many respects a heroine for the black community - but she wasn’t black, she wasn’t British and she wasn’t a nurse. Her personal views, for example, about the Turks - she calls the Turks “worse than flees, degenerate Arabs”. Now Gove’s got that in the curriculum, and that’s what Turkish children in our schools are going to be hearing about themselves.
GILES FRASER You make an interesting point and no one is in favour of teaching bad history, and getting the facts wrong - and you gave an example earlier of kind of rather crude ways of instilling empathy into children, - and I think part of the Govian critique is this idea that history is about getting children to empathise with past figures [and I think this] is problematic. I would argue that actually one of things we do need children to understand really deeply in the 21th century (inter-connected world as it is) is this capacity for empathy. And one of the great things history can bring to us is this task of trying to understand things through two different, three different, five different perspectives.
CHRIS MCGOVERN I think you’re probably thinking very much of older children there. I think you…
GILES FRASER No I think young children are fascinated by – if you say to young children ‘let’s look at the Wild West. Whose side would you be on, the Cowboys or the American Indians?’ I think young children are fascinated by that.
CHRIS MCGOVERN They are fascinated by stories and they will form judgements. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think at the age of five and six and seven, children need stories, landmark stories which they will enjoy. The History Curriculum Association has sent out an alternative syllabus to every school in the country which is much richer than Michael Gove’s.
GILES FRASER I just want to get to the bottom of this as it’s come up a couple of times. I’d suggest to you that what turns children onto history is precisely the fact that it is contested and that you can have an argument in the class about it however old you are.
CHRIS MCGOVERN And how do you teach five year olds? I would advise you to come see me teaching five year olds…
GILES FRASER I have five year olds and I’ve actually seen five year olds, for example, taught philosophy. And they love debating issues, it gives them a sense they’ve got a stake in the assignment rather than simply, here’s a set of facts established by other people cleverer than you and you’ve got to learn them.
CHRIS MCGOVERN Well, it isn’t like that at all. We need inspirational teachers and we need to enchant children. We need the magic of history and you get that from stories and narrative.
MICHAEL BUERK Chris McGovern, thanks very much indeed. Ok let’s draw some of these threads together. Our first witness Sir Richard Evans, - Claire Fox, his idea was that history teaching, even for these young children,- is about their ideas and their skills to reach their own judgements. How far did you go along with him on that?
CLAIRE FOX Professor Evans is actually very interested in the skills agenda and it’s kind of history as a vehicle for teaching analytical skills. I actually think that that treats history with contempt and ends up side-lining historical and chronological understanding - at the expense of skills. This actually is the orthodoxy in schools and so it’s all about using the evidence so that you can show that - that is one side of it. I genuinely think it is quite interesting that he’s very worried (which I share with him) about [teaching age-specific groups] – can you actually deal with ancient Greece with seven year olds as maybe the curriculum suggests. I kind of worry, It seemed to me that he was asking people to have the developed insights of analysis and argument about historic periods, (and I think Matthew, you agreed with him).. cavalier or roundhead - you need to know who they are...
MICHAEL BUERK Hang on a second. Matthew might have done but Giles…
CLAIRE FOX Cavaliers and Roundhead, you have to know who they are before you have the row about whose side you’re on.
GILES FRASER This is a misrepresentation! What he was saying was quite clear and it was actually quite straight forward, it wasn’t actually all this stuff about analysis. The past is another country and the job of history is sort of like travel and it expands the imagination just like travel does, and that’s absolutely right. [It was about] the idea that it has to be other, it has to be different and that is really, really important. One of the things we’ve got too much is that it’s all about our relevance to how we are and I like the idea that it’s completely other.
ANNE MCELVOY What worried me a bit about Professor Evans was, - apart from the fact he seemed to have a fantastic overconfidence in what was being taught at the moment - but that’s a personal judgement, this kind of protectionism of the historians because he really seemed (he got quite riled actually) he seemed to want to take ownership of that. Now, as it happens I have doubts about how much politicians should control in all of this. The idea that Mr Gove isn’t really trying to control it I think is for the birds, he is. So I do have doubts about that but I also think I’m not totally sure that I just want this league of university historians. But there is a balance here, what he seemed to be saying was ‘this is what I find useful.’ This is the analytical approach that HE wanted to promote and one felt that anything else, including actually what the last witness said (Chris McGovern) which I rather identified with (I thought he put his finger on it), - the route map, the landmarks, the stories, he didn’t have much time for any of that. And I think that was really the weakness in a particularly view of how to teach history. I felt he was a little deaf to anyone who may want to do it another way.
MICHAEL BUERK Matthew, Antony Beevor acknowledged that you can’t be totally value neutral but thought it was worth trying.
MATTHEW TAYLOR It seemed to me that Antony’s argument in essence didn’t seem to disagree with any of the positions that I put to him. He just seemed…
MICHAEL BUERK No right thinking person could of course.
MATTHEW TAYLOR He just seemed to say that until children are fourteen they can’t understand that things are complicated and I just think that’s nonsense really. And I agree that (facts?) report and I agree with Claire that if we’re going to understand Roundheads and Cavaliers we have to understand about the history. But the question is what is the access point for children? Is the access point learning the facts and then later on when they’re after fourteen you can say oh by the way this is argued about? Or is the access point to say here’s something which people have very different views about and we want to encourage you to get involved in the argument? Now Claire has used the phrase on a number of occasions, the “tools of thinking historically”, - now I think the tools of thinking historically should be given to children at the earliest possible age. We shouldn’t wait until they’re fourteen to say - by the way all those facts we taught you, they’re all subject to quite a lot of dispute...
CLAIRE FOX I think there’s this idea that what you do is you go in and you just announce the facts to children and you walk out of the room. I’ve been a teacher for years, that’s not what happens. There are headings, you teach them. That’s the job of teaching but on Professor Beevor…
MATTHEW TAYLOR Can you talk about how much you do Claire? The point is this Gove Curriculum it requires a lot…
CLAIRE FOX Time. I know there’s not enough time…
MATTHEW TAYLOR Therefore it does speak to a shallow fact-based understanding…
CLAIRE FOX No. I think that there is a problem of time - which is why I then think that at least in the time that you’ve got you should give people a sense of chronology and teach them history. That’s generally where I’m going. But just on Professor Beevor, I think the accusation levelled against Gove in this instance (and in fact against Professor Beevor) was this idea that- if you support Gove you’re a patriot, because he wants to go out there and teach a nationalist agenda and this is all about bigging up Britain and all the rest of it. And he was simply saying I thought, ‘look I’m not trying to be silly about this, you will have interpretations all along the way but let’s at least aim for just simply giving people a body of knowledge on which you can then, for example, rebel.’ I got taught British Imperialist History which I was then able to go off and read about and rebel against. At least I had something to rebel against.
MICHAEL BUERK Anne McElvoy, what did you make of the third witness Dr Wilkinson, and his (what I think one of the panellists accused him of having) rather instrumentalised view about an academic subject? He did actually say at one point that the purpose was to decide on what the ideal person should be and then deliver that person, which sounded a little chilling but he was quite convincing in lots of ways.
ANNE MCELVOY Well he was a polite instrumentalist, he was teleological too – I think he had some very reasonable points along the way - but ultimately I think he had this idea that it was a designed system. That you decide the enlightened kind of citizen you hope would come out at the end and work backwards like some sort of raisonner in a Moliere play. And the problem that I had with him ultimately is if you said to him ‘why are you teaching Romulus and Remus?’ I would suspect that the answer would be something like - so that you can better understand the Miliband resignation. He wanted everything to be about the present…
GILES FRASER The problem is - you are absolutely right, it is about relevance! Everything had to be relevant.
MICHAEL BUERK He actually said Giles, didn’t he, that history was to help children decode the present?
GILES FRASER No, I actually want it to be mystifying to them. I want you to do history of something that is SO different they go ‘oh my word, you could live a completely different life in the middle ages’. It’s not relevant…
MATTHEW TAYLOR I want to defend the point which he made which I think is a very powerful point. Which is that any education system has to be based, whether it is implicit or preferably explicit, on some account of what kind of people we are trying to create through this process. Now there are children in schools…
GILES FRASER That’s a bit chilling isn’t it? …
MATTHEW TAYLOR No, no, no but it’s important! Giles, for goodness sake, it’s implicit in all education that we have some notion of what kind of development path we’re taking children on.
GILES FRASER Why can’t it be that we want to create well educated young people?
MATTHEW TAYLOR But the question is this: there are young people in playgrounds all around Britain today having arguments about creationism because there are people from all different perspectives arguing about that. Now what is the most important tool…
CLAIRE FOX At least it’d be a lively, intellectual playground discussion…
MATTHEW TAYLOR That’s exactly the point. Are the citizens of tomorrow the ones that we most want to be able to regurgitate a set of facts or are they the kinds of citizens who can meet people from very different kinds of cultures and perspectives with different accounts of history and know how to have a civilised argument with them?
CLAIRE FOX We would like young people today to be able to be factually accurate about things that have happened in the past and have some sense of it. And then, they can develop the most sophisticated intellectual arguments later on. At the moment they haven’t got the facts - so they might have lots of opinionated rants - but about what?
MICHAEL BUERK Anne McElvoy?
ANNE MCELVOY Yes [brief silence followed by laughter]
MICHAEL BUERK You were looking so awestruck- I thought you had something valuable to add.
ANNE MCELVOY It was just a moment of rare agreement between Claire and myself. Absolutely, there is a point where I do in the end diverge from Matthew. There are just certain things I think are perfectly reasonable to be required to be known and many other countries do it. I don’t know why we feel so ashamed of it. Thereafter you can rebel or be critical or you can just say ‘yeah, right’ and go on to something else.
MICHAEL BUERK Right, two seconds.
GILES FRASER But dangerous people are people who just say they’re doing facts when they’re actually really doing values.
MICHAEL BUERK I thought that one of the astonishing things was that primary school children only get one hour of history a week. Astonishing. That’s it for this week and the series. From our panel; Claire Fox; Anne McElvoy; Matthew Taylor; Giles Fraser; and from me, until the next series which starts in June - good bye.
Chair: MICHAEL BUERK
Producer: PETER EVERETT
Series Researcher: KATHRYN BLENNERHASETT
Distorted coverage of the debate over the proposed history curriculum on ‘The Moral Maze’
28th March, THE HISTORY RESOURCE CUPBOARD, by Katherine Edwards, History Teacher
Last night, radio 4′s The Moral Maze discussed the proposals for the new national curriculum. Katherine Edwards, a history teacher campaigning against the awful proposals wrote the following response – see below.
Katherine is behind the website historynotpropaganda and instigated the e-petition Keep the History Curriculum Politically Neutral. Please sign this petition if you haven’t done so already.
Here is Katherine’s thoughtful response to last night’s programme:
The debate on the reform of the history curriculum was significantly distorted by yesterday’s ‘Moral Maze’ on BBC Radio 4. Although some heated exchanges took place, one point on which all participants agreed was that it was not acceptable for the history curriculum to become a vehicle for encouraging patriotism. This included Chris McGovern, Chairman of The Campaign for Real Education, who was calling for an end to history lessons which ‘denigrate this country’ and Antony Beevor who was defending the government’s approach.
Beevor was in fact very explicit about this, stating that he believed it was ‘absolutely wrong for history to be used as patriotism’. Yet he claimed ‘I don’t see any patriotism’ in the new curriculum. Which curriculum has he been reading? Clearly not the curriculum devised by a department headed by someone who calls for history to ‘celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world’ and who spoke in parliament of history lessons which focused on ‘British heroes and heroines’. Clearly not the curriculum endorsed by the Prime Minister at the Tory Party Conference as ‘our island story in all its glory’.
If he, along with majority of contributors to the programme who failed to bring the issue to light, cannot see the patriotism here, how does he explain why 2045 people have so far signed an e-petition calling to ‘Keep the History Curriculum Politically Neutral’?
You don’t actually have to look hard in the draft document to see it. The concept of the nation state is given such prominence that it is mentioned second only to the simple time-related vocabulary such as ‘before’ and ‘after’ to be taught to five year olds. The Dutch invasion to depose James II is referred to as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. Slavery is not mentioned in ‘the development of a modern economy’ section, despite a growing academic consensus that it was of vital importance to this process. Instead ‘the slave trade and the abolition of slavery’ are mentioned in one breath implying their equal significance. The draft uses archaic, loaded terminology such as ‘Britain and herEmpire’ and the ‘Great Game’ which serious historians have not used for decades.
The political agenda behind the curriculum is also painfully evident in its omissions. The ‘British heroes’ Mr Gove has in mind are predominantly white Protestant male ‘winners’, preferably those carrying a gun. Ordinary people hardly get a mention; people of African and Asian origin make no appearance in the whole primary curriculum and then only appear either as slaves, or the immigrants of the Windrush generation, or refugees from East Africa. This conveys the dangerous and erroneous impression that multiculturalism is something new on ‘these islands’. There are only two women mentioned in the four years of Key Stage 2 history, both Queens. If what we study in history is a reflection of what matters to us as a society, this sends some very disturbing messages.
Instead of highlighting this, the debate focused on the ‘facts versus skills’ argument, with many voices contending that it was impossible for children to engage in critical analysis before they knew ‘the facts’. Richard Evans’ position, which has always been that the two should be learnt in tandem, was misrepresented as being a privileging of skills over factual knowledge. To present the two as mutually exclusive alternatives would be as absurdly reductionist to any history teacher as the suggestion that when learning a language all the vocabulary has to be mastered before any grammar can be taught.
Children are quite capable of understanding that people take different perspectives, and that evidence can be brought to bear in judging between them as anyone who has ever arbitrated in their playground arguments can testify. As soon as they can read fluently they are quite capable of reading two contrasting sources, suggesting reasons why they differ and trying to adjudicate between them, albeit on a simple level.
In doing so they are engaging with history in an honest and authentic way – in fact the only honest and authentic way – and one which reflects the way the subject works at a much higher level, rather than being duped into thinking that the subject consists of a body of supposedly objective ‘facts’, which no serious historian would contend. There is nothing that engages young people in the subject more than a good debate, or the empowering sense that they can formulate their own views, as long as they are based on the evidence. ‘Facts’ and ‘skills’ are actually mutually reinforcing. They remember the factual material much better as well if they have deployed it in a debate with their peers or their teacher. It not only inspires their interest in history but gives them the instinctively critical approach to evidence which is so valuable as a life skill and so important in maintaining the health of our democracy.
If teachers – those that will deliver the new curriculum – were given a genuine voice in the debate, then it would be put in perspective. The Historical Association’s survey of teachers show clearly that the teachers are anything but evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the new curriculum. From over 700 respondents 96% thought the new curriculum over prescriptive; 93% strongly disagree that ‘everything’ from the Stone Age to 1700 should be taught at primary school; 85% disagree that there is an appropriate amount of European and World history; 91% disagree that the new curriculum will ‘effectively prepare young people for life and work in an increasing globalised society’; 90% disagree that the aims of the curriculum can be delivered by its content and only 5% agree that their school will follow the new curriculum in its current form!
Before we take the dramatic step of replacing our current curriculum with a high prescriptive, undeliverable, dangerously politicised narrative, we should at least give the debate proper representation in the national media.
The political agenda behind the new curriculum may be invisible to Antony Beevor, but these current secondary school pupils attending last Monday’s BASA meeting to discuss the threat it poses to multiculturalism are well aware of it.
Katherine Edwards, history teacher
Please sign Katherine’s e-petition Keep the History Curriculum Politically Neutral.
Letters and articles 4 March - 25 March
25th March, blog, THE INDEPENDENT, by gutsy philosophy doctoral student, Luke Brunning, Uni of Oxford
via @lukephilosophy & blogging @ lukebrunning.com
24th March, GUARDIAN:
We need cross-party curriculum talks
Subject knowledge is vital to education and a national curriculum should represent the knowledge which is accepted as being important in our society (Report, 18 March). Additionally, children, young people and other learners have developmental needs (including cognitive, emotional, social and physical) which change as they grow older. Successful learning occurs when teachers, parents and others exercise judgement in bridging knowledge and development appropriately. In this way, one generation helps another. There are two main problems with the proposals for a new national curriculum in England. First, there has been no authentic attempt to achieve agreement on overall intentions and on the balance of knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes which should form the curriculum content. The proposals for subject knowledge thus lack legitimacy in far too many areas.
Second, the proposals are imbalanced. Over-specification, implausible expectations and high-stakes control in relation to English and mathematics are combined with laissez-faire variability in relation to other subjects and issues. This produces a significant risk that many children will not feel motivated or engaged by the new curriculum. Teachers will do their best, as they invariably do. Cramming often does raise short-term performance, but it is doubtful if understanding and long-term capability will be achieved by provision of this type.
Within our democracy, the secretary of state has responsibility for this process and for making evidence-informed judgments about these issues on behalf of us all. His selective use and misuse of evidence and advice cannot be justified. In December 2011, the Labour party offered cross-party talks on the national curriculum following publication of the report of the expert panel, of which I was a member. School education needs stability if it is to provide appropriately for children's learning. Mr Gove should call a halt and do the job properly.
Professor Andrew Pollard
Universities of London and Bristol
24th March, Telekopos blog by Rebekah Higgit: http://bit.ly/Zjc52H
Much has already been said about the proposed new history curriculum. This piece by David Cannadine in the TLS is a good place to start, as is the Historical Association’s forum on the topic and, of course, Richard Evans in the FT. There is not much point in my adding to all this, but I did want to share something that looking at this contents-page of a curriculum made me recall.
As many of the critics of the proposed curriculum have pointed out, it all begins promisingly enough: it should allow children to “understand historical concepts such as continuity and change, cause and consequence, similarity, difference and significance”, and “how evidence is used rigorously to make historical claims, and discern how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed”. But what follows seems specifically-designed to undermine such aims, with a chronological list of names, abstract ideas and events that kids from as young as six are supposed to get through in just an hour a week.
There is much concern that this dry list, with often often age-inappropriate topics, will be a complete turn-off and that numbers taking history at GCSE will plummet. It will now be much harder for primary teachers to make history come alive by finding their local history, talking to people who remember past events, taking advantage of local museums, or discussing topics that fit the age of the children being taught – evacuation, for example, might be a powerful topic to discuss with children young enough not to be able to imagine leaving their parents. Instead, seven-year-olds will be discussing “concepts such as civilisation, monarchy, parliament, democracy, and war and peace”.
Thinking about what I don’t like about this curriculum got me thinking about my own experience of history at school. It didn’t make much of an impression on me at primary school: I got most of my history at home and on family trips to museums, monuments and galleries. It is this kind of thing, which many children will not have had, that Gove claims his education reforms make up for but, of course, it is never presented as a chronological ‘island story’. It involved going to places, asking questions, haphazard connections.
The little history I remember from primary school seemed equally haphazard, but that is no bad thing. You gain a sense of historical perspective not by slogging, over years, through a long chronology, but by thinking one day about Roman gladiators and then thinking about how different the world was when Henry VIII was on the throne, or when your house was built, or when aeroplanes were invented. The things that stick most in my mind had a connection to where I lived: the history of the city, the use of the buildings surrounding me. On one class visit to Edinburgh Castle, we dressed up as the French prisoners kept there during the Napoleonic Wars. We offered, as they had, our craftwork for sale and, of all things, sang the Marseillaise as we walked up to the gates.
At secondary school I started to really enjoy history, sometimes because of excellent teaching, sometimes in spite of it. Things were worst when we had to slog through a topic that covered a long period of history and when we were mostly obviously cramming in facts, people, dates and themes to prepare for exams. Things were best when we had discrete topics that we could cover in sufficient detail to get a feel for the period, the people involved and different perspectives.
Another post today from a fellow history of science curator – Charlie Connelly of the Science Museum – suggested one approach to counter that of Gove’s curriculum. This was to tell good stories, something with which many a watcher of TV documentaries and reader of popular histories would agree, not to mention many public historians and those who come to history outside the usual school and academic route. Charlie explains that it was good stories, even if ‘bad’ histories, like Sobel’s Longitude that got her to change her mind on history, having given up at 14 “finding it an unbelievably dry and tedious subject”.
I am a bit more doubtful, as readers of this blog will know, about using misleading stories as a hook. I also don’t recall “stories” being something that got me interested in history at school (although I do remember frequently getting a book called “100 Great Lives” out of the library over and again, undoubtedly a text Gove would have approved of). In fact, the thing that really excited me about history was that the more we know, the more we see that stories can be questioned. That was a powerful feeling.
Three lessons in my first year of secondary school stick out. For each of them the teacher prepared packs of images and texts and allowed us to go through them and draw our own conclusions, before class discussions and his conclusions. The first lesson was based on a fictional crime. We were given a range of evidence from the scene and about suspects and had to see if we could solve the crime. The next lesson did something similar, but with real images, newspaper reports, letters and statements, about the assassination of JFK. The final one looked at the assassination at Sarajevo.
For the real cases it became abundantly clear that the evidence we had was contradictory, that it could be very different in form and that different narratives could be created. This was exciting. We weren’t being taught facts, we were investigating, doing our own thinking and drawing our own conclusions or creating our own narratives based on the evidence we had. Aside from the fact that the evidence was given to us on coloured paper rather than our finding it ourselves in the archive, this really is a little bit like what real historians do.
It is also a little bit like what we all do, when we see the news, read newspapers, talk to friends and family and try to understand the world around us. These are the kinds of skills and the type of knowledge (not knowledge of facts but the knowledge that you are equipped to question or investigate) that school history can give to citizens and future voters. It goes without saying that they are also useful for many kinds of work. In what possible way can Gove’s curriculum compete with that?
About Rebekah Higgitt
Rebekah Higgitt completed a PhD in the history of science at Imperial College London in 2004 and did postdoctoral research at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2008 she has been Curator of History of Science and Technology at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Her research and publications have mainly focused on scientific institutions, scientific biography, history of science and the relationship between science, government and the public in 19th-century Britain.
23rd March, blog about Anthony Beevor via
A leading historian has criticised history teaching, claiming that Blackadder is being used to inform students about the First World War. This is from the Times…
Antony Beevor said that “fake faction” and the “democratisation of the truth” could lead to dangerous conspiracy theories taking hold.
During a discussion at the Oxford Literary Festival with the writer Kate Mosse, Beevor said that exceptions could perhaps be made for the fictionalising of “far away history”, citing Hillary Mantel’s novels centring on Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. But he was scornful about the use of fiction to inform academic study.
“You even get it in schools,” he said. “I was lecturing to history teachers and told them that I had heard that Blackadder was being used to teach the [First World War]. I realised that half of them were shifting uneasily in their seats.”
More at: History ‘taught by Blackadder’ says leading academic (subscription required)
Have you found fiction useful to teach history in school? Share your opinions, experiences and schools improvement stories with our readers by sending them to us on this form. Please confirm you are happy for your contribution to be posted on the site and let us know your name/role (as relevant)
21st March, New Statesman piece by Richard Evans
Michael Gove's History Curriculum Is a Pub Quiz Not an Education
Michael Gove’s new draft national curriculum for history, launched on 7 February, has been greeted with dismay by history teachers at every level, from primary schools to universities, and from every part of the political spectrum.
What has annoyed them most is Gove’s decision to ignore the consultation process and do it all himself. He initially asked the historian Niall Ferguson to come up with ideas for a new curriculum but Ferguson’s response, based on a positive presentation of Europe’s – and especially Britain’s – global ascendancy since the early modern period, did not appeal to Gove, because it advocated history with a global sweep instead of history focused on supposedly key personalities and events within the British past.
Sidelining Ferguson, Gove then asked another expatriate British television historian, Simon Schama, to take a lead. A process of consultation began. A large meeting was held with interested parties including the Better History Forum of conservative teachers led by a former teacher, Seán Lang. Clearly those selected to advise the secretary of state, such as Steven Mastin, a state school history teacher, were chosen partly for political reasons (Mastin was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate at the 2010 general election). With their participation, a draft national history curriculum was hammered out in January and prepared for consultation.
What was actually announced in early February came as a shock to everyone. Those who had taken part in the preparation process did not recognise it. The history profession, including the history sections of the British Academy, the Historical Association, the Royal Historical Society and History UK, complained that the “details of the [new] curriculum have been drafted inside the Department for Education without any systematic consultation or public discussion with historians, teachers or the wider public”.
Even conservative historians were dismayed. A group of 15 academic historians close to the Conservative Party gave their support in a letter to theTimes only “in principle” and hoped that the proposals “will no doubt be adapted as a result of full consultation”. Ferguson found the draft curriculum “too prescriptive” and complained that his advice to Gove on this point had been ignored. Lang complained on behalf of the Better History Forum: “Our proposal was ignored; Mr Gove has apparently shut his ears to anyone’s advice but his own.” Mastin said the proposed new curriculum bore “no resemblance” to drafts he had worked on as late as January of this year. “Between January and the publication of this document – which no one involved in the consultation had seen – someone has typed it up and I have no idea who that is,” he remarked.
The answer is inescapable: it was Gove. Just as Margaret Thatcher declared herself shocked and appalled when she saw her first national history curriculum, drawn up largely by education professionals, Gove must have reacted with dismay when he saw the final draft of his history curriculum. Neither document delivered what the politicians wanted, namely the learning of names, dates and facts strung together to form a celebratory, patriotic national narrative. Unlike Thatcher, however, who in the end reluctantly respected the professionals’ expertise, he tore it up and wrote his own.
What does the proposed new curriculum suggest? It begins well enough by reminding us: “A high-quality history education equips pupils to think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments and develop perspective and judgement.” Yet this introduction seems to have been left over from an earlier draft, for it is no more than a token gesture, almost completely forgotten in the rest of the text, which focuses on listing the facts that pupils will have to learn by rote.
The contradiction between aims and content is even more crass in the passage about the requirement that pupils “know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history”. Despite this laudable aim, they are given no opportunity whatsoever to do so in the rest of the curriculum, in which the emphasis is exclusively on British history. European and world history are included only where they are relevant to Britain.
At times, this verges on the comical. When pupils study the Enlightenment, for instance, they study “Francis Bacon, John Locke, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, Adam Smith and the impact of European thinkers”, though not those thinkers themselves; clearly Voltaire, Montesquieu and Diderot are unimportant because they were French.
This is a curriculum that will produce a generation of young Britons with no knowledge of the history of any part of the world beyond the shores of the British Isles. “As far as I am aware,” Mastin has warned, “we will be the only jurisdiction in the western world that won’t teach world history.” The curriculum declares: “A knowledge of Britain’s past, and our place in the world, helps us understand the challenges of our own time.” Yet in today’s globalised world, it does no such thing.
How are history pupils going to be tested on their knowledge of, say, Thatcher’s election (oddly, the period that the curriculum specifies stops at the moment she comes to power and does not require pupils to know anything about her government), the Chartists or King Athelstan? The draft curriculum is no help at all here. Will they be given multiple-choice examinations? There are no clues; it doesn’t mention the skills whose varying level of deployment is the main basis for assessment. This is preparation forMastermind or a pub quiz; it is not education.
The new curriculum tells pupils what to think. The Dutch invasion that overthrew King James II was, it declares, “the Glorious Revolution”, ignoring its violent anti-Catholicism and deadly effects in Scotland and Ireland, which were followed by the discrimination against Catholics in the UK that lasted another 140 years. Not glorious for everyone, then. It also tells us what the causes of the First World War were (“colonial rivalry, naval expansion and European alliances”); the causes of the Second World War, meanwhile, were “appeasement, the failure of the League of Nations and the rise of the dictators”.
Evidence gathered in the recent Ofsted report History for All suggests that one of the chief attractions of history for school students is the opportunity that it gives them to find out about historical personalities and issues for themselves and to make their own decisions. The new curriculum is sure to put them off the subject.
Gove has said he wants pupils to study British heroes. However, is “Clive of India” a hero to the many British children of Indian parentage or descent? Historical individuals, including objects of left-wing admiration such as the Levellers or the black nurse Mary Seacole, should be presented as subjects for historical inquiry, not as heroes or heroines to be admired mindlessly.
The new chronology that forms the basis of the proposed curriculum isn’t workable. In practice, it will produce even more superficial knowledge than pupils have at the moment. With only one hour a week devoted to history, taught by a non-specialist teacher, how are primary school pupils going to work their way through the dense factual material of Key Stages 1 and 2? There is simply too much material to teach; only bits and pieces can be selected.
And how are seven-year-olds going to understand topics such as “the heptarchy” or “feudalism”? What will 11-year-olds make of the Putney debates? After the age of 11, pupils will study only modern history. They will come to maturity with a knowledge of the Middle Ages stuck at the level of a nine-yearold. The teaching prescribed by the draft curriculum is not appropriate to the ages of the children being taught.
Given the time available, the chronology will end up being taught as discrete episodes. Narrative or, to use a better word, chronicle, the recital of one event after another, will not help children understand change over time; to do that, they need to compare and relate events with each other and with their contexts, not just to learn that the Vikings came after the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans after the Vikings. In practice, sequential teaching of this kind does not provide a context; it rips events out of their context, leaving them insusceptible to analysis.
All of the new developments over the past half-century – in economic, social, cultural and other kinds of history – that have made history so exciting as a discipline are pushed to the sidelines in favour of a political narrative that might have been lifted straight from a textbook written in the 1930s. There are labels and concepts in the new curriculum that haven’t been used by historians for years – “gunboat diplomacy” and “Clive of India”, to name only two.
Gove wants the teaching of history to give pupils a positive sense of national identity and pride. Yet history isn’t a form of instruction in citizenship. It’s an academic subject in its own right. If he really wants more rigour in education, Gove should tear up his amateurish new curriculum and start listening to the professionals.
Richard J Evans is Regius professor of history and president of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge
21st March Guardian : find full article via link
"Michael Gove Labels Professors Critical of New Curriculum as 'Bad Academia"
Earlier this week 100 university professors published letter decrying Gove's new national curriculum for stiffling creativity
by Jessica Shepherd, Education Correspondent
21st March Find political intervention in curriculum by Wilshaw. Setting himself separate from the arguments of academics, but also the subject associations:
HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION STATEMENT via @histassoc
Consulted? Yes. Listened to? No.
On March 19 as a result of FOI requests the Department for Education provided a list of all those it had spoken to and been in discussion with in all subject areas for the draft National Curriculum. The HA were amongst those who were in discussion with the DfE along with colleagues that included, professors and education leaders, teachers and subject specialists. Unfortunately being consulted is not the same as being listened to. And whilst our time and expertise was given freely our research and qualified evidence was not used to shape, inform or create the Draft Programme of Study for History published on 7 February 2013. In fact, the published curriculum for history was as much a surprise to us as to anyone else. Sadly what this list does not indicate is which individuals were actually involved in authoring the curriculum.
The HA remains opposed to the proposed history curriculum and is happy to work with the DfE to reach a better solution but only if we are listened to and not merely listed for effect.
20th March HODDER HISTORY BLOG
What knowledge? Whose knowledge?
Michael Gove says in the preamble to his proposed curriculum that children should ‘know and understand the story of these islands … from the story of the first settlers … to the development of the institutions which govern our lives today.’ So who are the people of these islands and why does it matter?
In 2006 Channel 4 screened a programme1 in which a reporter persuaded several people who regarded themselves as quintessentially English to let themselves be DNA tested. The results showed them to be a rich ethnic mixture with elements including Turkish, Italian, Romany and African. Many were less than fifty per cent ‘English’. At the time there was much discussion about British and English identity and much confusion between the two. Attempts to define both soon ran into the sand.
Now, as over half the population of London do not define themselves as ‘White British’ and Scottish independence is possible, whatever we mean by ‘Britain’ may have to change, Michael Gove is proposing a history curriculum that rests on an idea of who the British are or have ever been that is demonstrably false and possibly dangerous.
The African diaspora in Britain, for example, we know to have begun about two thousand years ago. As Peter Fryer writes2 , ‘there were Africans in Britain before the English came’. There were North African soldiers (‘the Aurelian Moors’) garrisoned near Hadrian’s Wall3 ; a Mauretanian in the Roman army is commemorated in South Shields4; the skeleton of a wealthy African woman has been found in York5; an African man lived near modern Stratford-upon-Avon 1,700 years ago6; and Roman Britain was governed by a Libyan and visited by an African Roman Emperor7. African faces appear as part of the general population in countless illustrations from medieval manuscripts8 to contemporary representations of the Gordon Riots9 , from a painting of the death of Nelson10 to photographs of Second World War evacuees11. Not only was the Black presence within the English working class considerable12 but some individuals played key roles in the struggle of those who wanted change and democracy: Robert Wedderburn, William Davidson and William Cuffay an organiser of the 1848 Chartist rally on Kennington Common13. Recent work by archivists looking at parish records14 has unearthed 17th and 18th century baptisms and burials of black people all over the country from Evesham to Erith, from Pangbourne to Plymouth, from Beverley to Bedford, from Chester to Clwyd. When 350 Black passengers sailed for Sierra Leone from England in 1787 they were accompanied by 59 white women, all wives or widows of Black Londoners15.
The first known record of an Indian in Britain was a baptism in 161616. There is an Indian baker in the painting The Tichborne Dole17 and there have been Bengali Londoners for hundreds of years. Prominent British Indians have included an entrepreneur who kick-started Brighton’s tourist industry18, a suffragette19 and - in the Second World War - a spy20, a fighter pilot21 and a major part of the British forces at Monte Cassino.
In Gove’s curriculum, however, there are no British Africans or Asians for primary children to encounter. At secondary level, apart from Seacole and Equiano Africans appear only when enslaved and then disappear until the arrival of ‘the Windrush generation’. As for British Asians, their first and only appearance is as refugees from East Africa. Indeed, if you were Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Jewish, African or Indian you appear only as a victim. It is also a curriculum devoid of women and ordinary people.
The draft curriculum also claims it will enable children to ‘know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history: the growth and decline of ancient civilisations; the expansion and dissolution of empires’. The only empires and civilisations to be studied, however, are European: Greece, Rome and Britain. How can we understand Greece without Egypt? How can we avoid racist understandings of the world if our knowledge of Africa omits the kingdoms of Mali, Songhay, Benin and Great Zimbabwe and begins only with European conquests? How does any understanding of world history completely omit China? Pupils need to understand not only ‘how Britain influenced the world’ but also how the world influenced Britain in terms of trade, acquisition of knowledge and, of course, migration. As for the decline of the British Empire, the part played by Africans and Asians living and studying here was crucial.
This matters because, as Gove is so keen to point out in defence of his approach, we see and understand ourselves through our past. If children in our culturally diverse classrooms are fed the lie that diversity is new and encounter a story that suggest ‘otherness’ in all who are not white, then millions of children will not see themselves in the story and feel school history bears no relationship to their own ‘rich mix’ sense of British identity. More ominously, seeds may be sown for more sinister and dangerous attitudes fed by a selective ‘island story’ that claims to be ‘the essential chronology of Britain’s history’ but is in fact only one of many and deals with a segment.
The Macpherson report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence22 recommended ‘that consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society’. We need to know the truth of our long history of diversity: all our young people need to see themselves in our history not as a form of tokenism but because they are there and this is the truth. The current curriculum goes some way towards that goal: Gove’s flies in the opposite direction.
Gove is right to assert the power of knowledge but that is not contentious: the questions that matter are: what knowledge? whose knowledge? A journey through history that erases whole sections of our community and puts them outside the narrative is a journey towards darkness.
 100% English, Channel 4 (2006)
 Peter Fryer, Staying Power – the History of Black People in Britain (1984)
 Dr Richard Benjamin, British Archaeology 77, July 2004 ; also Michael Wood, The Great British Story: A People’s History (BBC 2012)
 York Archaeological Trust (2007)
 The Times and The Guardian, 26th and 27th Feb 2010
 Past Horizons, 26th January 2011
 Septimius Severus, who spent his last three years and died in Britain
 BASA Newsletter 57, July 2010
 Guildhall Library 4915 (1781)
 Daniel Maclise, The Death of Nelson (1859-1864), The Walker Art Gallery,Liverpool.
 Imperial War Museum
 the City of Westminster Archives estimate 15,000 Black Londoners by 1800
 Peter Fryer et al.
 BASA Newsletters, various
 Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain – 400 years of History (2002)
 Gillis van Tilborgh (1671)
 Sake Dean Mahomed
 Sophia Duleep Singh
 Noor Inayat Khan
 Mahinder Singh Pujji
 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999)
Posted by Jim Belben on 20/03/2013 5:42:41 PM
19th March THE INDEPENDENT
17th March, THE SUNDAY TIMES, by Sian Griffiths, Education Correspondent
Historian: Gove is facing his Waterloo
One of Britain’s most distinguished historians has claimed that the government is facing defeat over its controversial new history curriculum.
In an uncharacteristically forthright interview, Sir David Cannadine, Dodge professor of history at Princeton, said last week that the proposals published by Michael Gove, the education secretary, last month were unworkable.
“The general response has not been favourable — even the people supporting it are pretty lukewarm if you read between the lines,” Cannadine told The Sunday Times. “On the basis of such reaction, there are going to have to be more conversations down the line, because I do not think Mr Gove will persist with the draft he has put out. I do not think he can do that.
"On subjects like what should be taught in schools, previous ministers have understood that you have to have academic support, parental support and teacher support, otherwise it isn't going to happen"
Cannadine said he had heard that Gove had written part of the draft history curriculum, despite not having "any appropriate qualifications for involving himself in such a complex task." "How much history does he know?" asked Cannadine. "Michael Gove studied English Literature... by anaology, would anyone ask the Secretary of State for Health, who was not a qualified Doctor, to prescribe the correct procedure for a hip replacement operation?"
The professor, who divides his time between America and Britain, is the latest distinguished historian to join the debate over the new curriculum. It has been hailed as a return to tradition, under which children from the ages of five to 14 would be taught in chronological order "our island story" from the Stone Age to the election of Margaret Thatcher.
Cambridge's Regius Professor of History, Sir Richard Evans, has already condemned the plans as "rote learning of patriotic stocking-fillers".
Cannadine has revealed that he was one of a small handful of people asked by Gove to comment on an early version of the seven-page 134-bullet-point draft proposals late last year.
He had recently written a book, "The Right Kind of History", which investigated the teaching of history in English Schools from the 1900s to the present. The book called for history to be made compulsory up to the age of 16.
"Along with others, I was asked to look at the curriculum drafts last December, and I said that since I do not accept that history should stop being taught at 14, I am not going to comment on these proposals," Cannadine said last week. "I was then asked to meet with Mr Gove again in January and put all my points again. On the basis of the curriculum that emerged he took no notice of the arguments."
Cannadine also criticises the draft curriculum as blinkered, too prescriptive and too concerned with Britain at the expense of world history: "We live in a multicultural Britain, and the history we learn has to offer an explanation of that,: he said.
Despite his criticisms, he is hopeful that Gove can be persuaded of the consensus he says is building among historians. "What is difficult is whether Michael Gove wil see this as a consensus bandwagon he ought to jump aboard... I am an optimist. I believe patience and persistence are in order."
He added: "In the end you have to get the teachers to teach the curriculum. It is clear that the relations between the teachers and Mr Gove are not very good, and it is very difficult to be an effective secretary of state for education if you have the teachers against you."
David Cannadine's latest book "The Undivided Past" is published this week by Allen Lane.
David Cannadine's previous book "The Right Stuff" is evidence-based research on the history of the history curriculum.
15th March - Blog by Alix Green via
(Teaching) history in the news
I've had an interesting exchange with Robert Gordon VC, prolific Tweeter and blogger, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, over a post he put up about students’ apparent lack of awareness of a major news story: the French intervention in Mali. I mentioned that at the start of every workshop with my third year Public History class, the students bring along and present examples of ‘history in the news’ for discussion.
Having filled a whiteboard with all the many ways in which the past is present in the present, the students have found an impressive array of material. Royal and papal stories were easily idenitifiable. But they also started to tune into the role of anniversaries, and the calls for commemoration that often accompany them (such as the Bethnal Green Tube disaster of 3rd March 1943), and to pick up on international news (such as the burning of historic manuscripts in Timbuktu) and on history in politics (Michael Gove’s curriculum reform efforts providing a particularly rich seam).
The students quickly developed a capacity to read the news like historians, rather than consuming it. They already had the skills to do so, it’s just that they weren’t necessarily being exercised. Maybe ‘historianship’ was compartmentalised in their minds, something you only access when writing an essay. Doing public history has, I hope, given them a sense that historianship can be a habitual practice, a mode of thinking that can shape how they see and interact with the world.
‘History in the news’ generates some of the liveliest discussions – maybe because in a sense the students ‘own’ that part of the class. Having three exchange students has been particularly interesting and has made us all aware of the extent to which our referents and understandings are conditioned by context (and rarely inspected). Explaining Remembrance Day, Bonfire Night or the Battle of Britain (or indeed, Australia’s Sorry Day or Martin Luther King Day in the United States) has also helped us really get at some of the key issues in the scholarly literature.
‘History in the news’ is only one way of doing it, but making that connection in public history teaching between history as a scholarly activity and history as a mode of thinking and viewing seems to me a priority. Even if students never end up working in history, they can always be thinking with it.
13th March: TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
The future of History
The history lessons outlined in the draft National Curriculum are too prescriptive, Anglocentric and narrow – the only way to make the subject better, David Cannadine argues, is to give it more time in the classroom
The publication of Michael Gove’s draft National Curriculum in early February was initially upstaged by his simultaneous retreat (or, instead, his statesmanlike re-grouping) on the proposed English Baccalaureate. But as that story has receded, at least for the time being, discussion of the proposed new Curriculum has belatedly begun, and once again, it seems that history is the most controversial subject. This should come as no surprise. For more than five years, a debate has been running as to whether history is well or badly taught in our state schools, whether it is better or worse taught than it used to be, whether young people know enough of it or not, and whether the problem lies with the content of the present National Curriculum, or with the amount of time available for teaching history in the classroom. In a way that seems true of no other subject, the issue of history teaching in schools engages public attention and carries unmistakable political overtones: for unlike, say, economics or physics, where the content is similar the world over, classroom history is in large part about the national past, and thus about who we are, where we have come from, and what sort of country we are living in. Not surprisingly, then, the current debate about how history should be taught in state schools, and about what history should be taught in them, is not confined to the United Kingdom, but is also taking place around the world, from Australia to the United States, Germany to Russia, Japan to South Africa.
I am a participant in the British version of this debate because, with Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, I co-authored The Right Kind of History (2011), which was the first attempt to investigate the teaching of history in English state schools (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are different jurisdictions) from the early 1900s, when it effectively became a compulsory subject, to the present day. The book was the result of a lengthy research project, which involved working our way through a mass of government directives, official reports and surveys by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Schools (HMI), as well as the extensive and expanding literature on teaching, curricula and pedagogy; and we also conducted surveys and interviews with teachers and former pupils, which enabled us to get a feel for history in the classroom from the 1930s onwards. Our main aim was to show the variety and complexity of the forces that determined what was taught and learned in the classroom, and among these were (and are): the calibre of ministers in charge of education, and their aims and policies while in office; the role of local authorities and HMIs, and the types and the variety of schools at primary and secondary level; the training and ability of history teachers, and the evolving nature of history as an academic discipline; developments in pedagogic theory and practice and technological changes in the classroom; the age up to which boys and girls were compulsorily taught history and the age at which they left school; the curriculum they were taught, and the examinations they sat.
From these many, varied but interlinked perspectives, we traced the course of history teaching in English state schools, and our account necessarily encompasses both continuity and change. The advent of the radio, television and computer, the diminishing place of Britain in the world, the creation of a comprehensive school system, the introduction of O levels, A levels, the CSE and the GCSE, and the establishment of a National Curriculum have profoundly affected how history has been taught. Yet (and this is a seriously dismaying continuity) it has never been a compulsory subject in English schools beyond the age of fourteen, and there is scarcely any other European country of which that can be said. Not surprisingly, then, there have been constant complaints about the teaching of history for as long as it has been taught: that young people know too little about the national past; that they are ignorant about dates, battles, politicians and kings and queens; that (alternatively) the rote learning of dates, battles, politicians and kings and queens is excruciatingly boring and is not the same as history; and that there was once a golden age when history was better taught, and when boys and girls did know about the national past, from which there has been a recent and catastrophic decline. Across the whole of the twentieth century, there was scarcely a decade when points such as these were not being made. And when these criticisms were levelled, as they have again been recently, it was usually in complete ignorance of the fact that they had already been made several times before. Ironically enough, the criticisms of history teaching in English schools, made by people who, presumably, think history is important, are almost invariably lacking in any historical perspective.
Ironically enough, the criticisms of history teaching in English schools, made by people who, presumably, think history is important, are almost invariably lacking in any historical perspective
Our conclusions may also be briefly summarized. With so many schools, teachers and pupils, so many different ways of teaching history, and so much history that could be taught, the only generalization we could safely make was that few generalizations could safely be made. All too often, we noted, individual examples of bad teaching or of historical ignorance were irresponsibly deployed to stand proxy for an entire generation of teachers and pupils; and too much of the discussion of school history by politicians and pundits and professional pedagogues was excessively polarized, when the reality of history teaching in classrooms was often very different. Across the long twentieth century, both “traditional” and “progressive” versions of history have sometimes been well taught, sometimes badly taught, depending on the enthusiasm and expertise of the teacher. There have been regular complaints about repetition: of the Tudors before the Second Word War, of the Nazis more recently. There have been repeated laments that coverage has been superficial rather than in-depth, but also that there has been no opportunity to convey the “big picture”. There have been frequent criticisms that too much (or too little) attention has been given to the history of Britain, or the history of Europe or of the British Empire or of the wider world. And underlying these specific concerns has been the recognition that it will always be difficult to address these problems when so little space is given to history in the school timetable, and when most pupils give it up at the age of fourteen.
One of the prime purposes of our book was to provide a history of history as a taught subject in English state schools, because this had never been done before, partly in the hope that it might stimulate similar studies of history teaching in Wales, Scotland and Northen Ireland, and also because it might stimulate parallel histories of other taught subjects, which are urgently needed. But we were also concerned to provide the necessary evidence to inform the current debate on history teaching in schools, in the hope of influencing – and improving – government policy. To this end, we noted that there was no serious evidence to suggest there had been a recent and catastrophic decline in history teaching (and in historical knowledge) from an earlier but vanished golden age, which means in turn that the current challenge is not to try to get back to some past utopia of classroom history and historical knowledge that never in fact existed, but to try to make history teaching better in the future. Given the complex array of forces that determine the history taught in any particular classroom, what changes might best be made that might bring about such a substantial improvement? We argued that the solution is not to be found by blaming and changing the current National Curriculum. It is not perfect, but in outline, it strikes a good balance between the history of Britain and of other nations and of other parts of the world, and between broad chronological survey and in-depth study. The temptations to tinker with it, or to scrap it completely and begin again, we concluded, should be resisted.
Yet if the National Curriculum is not the problem, then what is? Our answer was clear, namely that since the 1900s, insufficient time has been given to history in the classroom: hence the rushed and superficial treatment of unrelated subjects; the lack of a firm chronological sequence and narrative structure; the difficulty of giving adequate attention to the big picture; and the risk of repetition at Key Stage Three and at Key Stage Four for those taking the subject at GCSE. Reforming the National Curriculum, we concluded, would not address these problems, and the only way to do so would be to make history compulsory to the age of sixteen. That had been Kenneth Baker’s original intention when he devised the National Curriculum; it would integrate the National Curriculum with GCSE, and it would align our teaching practices with those of other Western countries. By gaining more time for history in the classroom, the problems of superficiality, chronology, incoherence and repetition could finally be confronted. That was our recommendation, which was welcomed by professional historians and schoolteachers, by Ofsted and the Historical Association, and by the Independent and the Daily Telegraph. Our proposal was also endorsed by an Expert Panel set up by the Department of Education and by the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History, who urged that “history should be part of a curriculum as a core subject to sixteen”.
But despite the wide range of support they have gathered, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, seems determined to ignore these recommendations. He has repeatedly claimed that he wants to improve history teaching in the classroom, so that today’s pupils will leave school knowing more about the past than their forebears, and he has done so on the laudable grounds that this will be both intrinsically good for them and also help them to understand how the modern world came to be the way it is. But while we might all applaud these aspirations, there is a significant difference of view as to the means of realizing them: for Gove has not only refused the well-evidenced invitation to attempt something bold and innovative that would help bring this stated aim about, but he has instead gone for the safe and easy alternative that will achieve no such result. He has decided against making history compulsory to the age of sixteen, preferring instead to reform the National Curriculum, which is the exact opposite of what has been repeatedly recommended by people who know what they are talking about. Michael Gove may be in charge of the Department of Education, but on the subject of history teaching in schools, he has shown no interest in educating himself as to how he might best achieve his own objectives.
Michael Gove may be in charge of the Department of Education, but on the subject of history teaching in schools, he has shown no interest in educating himself as to how he might best achieve his own objectives
Late last year, and at Gove’s behest, officials in his Department were working on two drafts of a proposed new National Curriculum in history. But they were only concerned with pupils up to the age of fourteen rather than to sixteen, and their labours were largely carried out behind closed doors. When the first National Curriculum was put together during the 1980s, there was an extensive process of consultation, which meant the scheme of study that eventually emerged was widely supported by the teaching and academic professions and by the general public. But this time round, by contrast, there was no such systematic consultation or public discussion. Instead, a few people were asked for their views on the substance of these two drafts, on condition they did not mention this to anyone else. I was among those consulted; but I declined to comment on the detail because I did not accept that reforming the National Curriculum was the best way to improve history in schools; and at a meeting with Michael Gove early this year, I urged him to reconsider his refusal to make the subject compulsory to sixteen. I also pointed out (as many others had done) that the two drafts were little more than lists of names and subjects cobbled together, which did not constitute a history curriculum at all; that it would be impossible to teach the large spans of time that were to be covered in Key Stages Two and Three; and that the narrowing of the prescribed areas of study, away from world history and towards English history, would not equip young people to understand the multicultural country they inhabited or the globalized world in which they would be living and working.
Once again, these arguments fell on deaf ears, for the draft National Curriculum in history that has recently been published is worse than that which it is intended to replace. To be sure, its preamble contains wisdom and good sense: “A knowledge of Britain’s past, and of our place in the world”, it begins, “helps us understand the challenges of our own times”. All schoolchildren, it goes on, should “know and understand the story of these islands: how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world”. They should also “know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history: the growth and decline of ancient civilizations; the expansion and dissolution of empires; the achievements and follies of mankind”. To this end, schoolchildren should “understand historical concepts such as continuity and change, cause and consequence, similarity, difference and significance”, and they should also learn “how evidence is used rigorously to make historical claims, and discern how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed”. Moreover, they should “gain historical perspective by placing their growing knowledge into different contexts, understanding the connections between local, regional, national and international history”, and also appreciate the links between “cultural, economic, military, political, religious and social history”, and “between short- and long-term timescales”. These seem admirably wide-ranging aims: although the history of “how Britain influenced the world” should be complemented by the history of how the world influenced Britain.
But it is when we turn from the preamble to the specific content that serious difficulties begin. At Key Stage One, boys and girls between the ages of five and seven will be expected to understand “the concept of nation and of a nation’s history”, as well as “concepts such as civilization, monarchy, parliament, democracy, and war and peace”, along with “the lives of significant individuals in Britain’s past which have contributed to our nation’s achievements”. At Key Stage Two, pupils aged from seven to eleven “should be taught about the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome”, but their prime task will be to learn “the essential chronology of our nation’s history”, from “early Britons and settlers” to the Glorious Revolution, constitutional monarchy and the Union of the Parliaments, via the Roman conquest, the Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements, the Norman Conquest, the Crusades, the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, the Renaissance in England, the Stuarts, the Union of the Crowns, and the Civil War. And at Key Stage Three, for those aged between twelve and fourteen, the focus will be on “the development of the modern nation” from the mid-eighteenth to the late twentieth century, encompassing such topics as Wolfe in Canada and Clive in India, the English Enlightenment, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the growth and fluctuations of the industrial economy, the High Victorian era, Britain’s nineteenth-century global impact, the First World War, the 1920s and 30s, the Second World War, the retreat from Empire, the Welfare State, Commonwealth immigration, the advent and end of the Cold War, the election of Margaret Thatcher, and Britain’s relations with the rest of Europe.
Such, according to Gove, is the curriculum that will revive and reinvigorate the teaching of history in our nation’s primary and secondary schools, thereby ensuring that future generations will know more about our national past than their ignorant and unfortunate forebears do at present. But as others have already pointed out, there are serious problems with it. The first is that much of the proposed curriculum is not age-appropriate. How will five- and six-year-olds discuss and debate the concept of the nation? Why is it that children at Key Stage Two are uniquely well placed to learn about ancient Greece and Rome? Can under-twelves make sense of the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses or the Civil War? Are primary school teachers, many of whom will have had no specific training in history, adequately qualified and equipped to teach these exceptionally complex subjects? And why is there no provision for pupils aged over eleven to learn about ancient, medieval or early modern history? It will also be impossible to encompass this over-extended chronology in the limited classroom time available. To cover English history from the Stone Age to the early eighteenth century in four academic years at primary school in at most one hour a week cannot be done; and the proposal to go from the mid-eighteenth century to the late twentieth at Key Stage Three with no more teaching time is equally unrealistic. The only way to deliver such a curriculum would be to abandon any pretence that history is about understanding as well as about knowing, and to teach it in just the patchy, simplistic, superficial and disconnected ways that the Secretary of State deplores about the present arrangements. His proposal does not solve that problem: instead it intensifies and exacerbates it.
How will five- and six-year-olds discuss and debate the concept of the nation? Can under-twelves make sense of the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses or the Civil War?
There is also the serious matter of the narrowing of the focus of the curriculum away from European and world history. Certainly, there is mention of ancient Greece and Rome, the American, French and Russian Revolutions, the First and Second World Wars, and the Cold War, though how much attention any of these would in practice receive is anyone’s guess. But no provision is made for studying other countries or continents or cultures or civilizations, and the rest of the world is only deemed to be of interest when Britain impinges on it. Thus the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which were pan-European phenomena, are to be studied only with reference to England: so goodbye to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Montesquieu and Rousseau. And the national history that remains is decidedly blinkered in its scope: it is England rather than Britain, and kings and queens, ministers and battles, war and peace. No one would deny that these are important; but there is more to the nation’s history than that. This syllabus is too narrow and too prescriptive, and the criticism that it offers a version of our national past derived from 1066 and All That, published in 1930, is well made. For Britain is no longer the nation it was then, and its place in the world is not what it was then; while history is not the subject it was then, either in terms of its content or its methodologies. Would anyone, prescribing, say, a physics or economics syllabus at primary and secondary level, do so on the basis of the state of knowledge, and the approach to the subject, that prevailed eighty years ago?
There are two further problems, one of commission, the other of omission. The first is the serious disconnect between the broad ranging aims outlined in the preamble to the proposed curriculum, and the introverted insularity of the syllabus itself. Apparently, the preamble was the only part of the draft where expert opinion was allowed to prevail, whereas the syllabus allegedly bears the imprint of the Secretary of State himself. Yet as its limitations and shortcomings make plain, it is not clear that Gove has any appropriate qualifications for personally involving himself in this complex and challenging task. He deplores a lack of historical knowledge in others, but how much history does he know? (And, by analogy, would anyone ask the Secretary of State for Health, who was not qualified as a doctor, to prescribe the correct procedure for a hip replacement operation?) The second problem is that this draft curriculum merely highlights the central longstanding issue, that there is insufficient time in the classroom to teach history seriously, for it is impossible to cram in all that is prescribed to children between the ages of five and fourteen, which is why rewriting a National Curriculum that does not extend beyond the age of fourteen goes nowhere. The only way to bring about a quantum improvement in history teaching and in the general level of historical knowledge is to make the subject compulsory in the classroom until the age of sixteen, and to construct an integrated, flexible and outward-looking curriculum on that basis. But that is the option that Gove refuses to embrace.
Not surprisingly, the response to this proposed history curriculum from most professional historians and schoolteachers has been deeply critical – notwithstanding Niall Ferguson’s recent defence of Gove’s syllabus in the Guardian, which was distinctly unconvincing; while his spat with Richard Evans merely exemplified the unhelpfulness of argument by anecdote and excessively polarized posturing, which has for too long occluded serious discussion of the subject. Of course the media love it when professors fall out in public, and Gove may well be enjoying the spectacle of two distinguished historians apparently so divided. Yet behind all the bluster and the point-scoring, it is clear that Evans and Ferguson actually agree on several important matters: namely that the draft curriculum is too prescriptive, that it is too Anglocentric, that it pays insufficient heed to the broader world, and that more time needs to be given to history in schools if the subject is to be better taught – which is exactly what most informed people have been saying since the document was first published. In truth, there is much more consensus on this subject than such media-driven disagreement suggests, and it is a consensus with which Michael Gove urgently needs to engage. Like him, we all wish history to be better taught, and for pupils to leave school knowing more about the past than they do at present; yet what he is proposing in his new draft curriculum will not bring that about, but would only make things worse.
David Cannadine is the co-author of The Right Kind of History, 2011, and the author of The Undivided Past: History beyond our differences, published this month.
13th March: Civil Service in Favour of Historical Advisors by Joshua Chambers
Experts back Butler in call to appoint historical advisers
8th March, the very useful "NEST" for blogs at Hodder History already has the four pieces by Alex Ford on the proposed new curriculum, and now a blog has just been added with a summary of the Historical Association meeting that was held this week at the British Library. The piece is written by Richard Kennet, and he has come away hopeful, that the constructive discussions will feed into finding a way forward to influence the Gove ministry on the NC. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/WQ1Qzy
7th March, BBC Radio3: Interesting that Danny Boyle was asked about his take on the History Curriculum whilst interviewed on BBC Radio 3''s Nightwaves this week. What does Danny Boyle think about the teaching of history in schools? He talked movingly about the responsibiity of the national historical narrative having resonance for kids today in multicultural Britain. To find section on history curriculum, you need to go to 7.57 mins IN to the podcast. Listen here to the master of Olympic ceremonies (Also, recommend Jonathan Friedland in feature interview on Danny Boyle,where he reflects on "Isles of Wonder" & finding his inner patriotism: via )
6th March, Tristram Hunt has piece in The Times, "It's Right For Schools To Put British History First?" where he states that he has a soft spot for Tory Ministers (as the wonderful Raph Samuel had done) because "at least they cared". His piece ends elegantly saying that Gove is still working on the first draft of history !
"It’s Right For Schools To Put British History First" by Tristram Hunt
Michael Gove’s new curriculum has serious flaws. But at least he cares
about the subject.
The communist historian Raphael Samuel always had a soft spot for Tory education
ministers. Their version of history might be a Whiggish, tub-thumping tale of insular
heroism but “at least they cared about the subject”.
So too with Michael Gove. For all the criticism levelled at the Secretary of State for
Education’s new history curriculum he is passionate about the past. What is more,
he is right to put British history at the forefront of teaching. The extraordinarily
aggressive response by teachers and professionals to the Gove plans misreads
history’s place in the education system. Unlike chemistry or English literature,
teaching history involves not just traditional academic skills, but also difficult
questions of identity and citizenship. This is the reason why its revision inspires
such fury and why it is right for democratically elected politicians to be involved in
framing the content.
At the heart of the controversy is the question of Britishness. Critics suggest that in
a modern, globalised world, dominated by China and India, it is backward and worng-
headed to promote some updated version of “Our Island Story.” Surely, tomorrow’s
citizens should study Benin and Bangladesh as much as Great Britain?
In fact, in a multicultural society where civic ties are weaker, it is more important
than ever to put British history above other national narratives. And it is vital to
do so within the classroom as the traditional levers for inculcating a sense of the
past – extended families, churches and chapels, Cubs and Scouts, political parties –
are atrophying. A cohesive society requires a sense of national identity developed
through a sympathetic and reflexive account of the British past.
And I will, for a moment, leave aside the obvious contradiction in Gove’s schem:
given that most schools will soon be academies, none will be legally obliged to
follow any of his curriculum.
For progressives, a focus on British history should be welcome: a sense of
historical struggle – the line of march – was a traditional prerequisite for Labour
pamphleteering. Michael Foot liked to recall how his Liberal father Isaac’s
interweaving of past and present informed his political philosophy, “Historical
figures and their historical counterparts melted into one,” Foot wrote. “Brewers,
protectionists, papists, apologists for Lord North and the Chamberlain family,
Spanish tyrants and Stuart kings, men of Munich and Suez, sons of Belial and
Beelzebub, normally disguised as West Country Tories, an especially reprehensible
branch of the species.”
I think Michael Foot might have welcomed a curriculum that includes the Levellers,
the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists and Annie Besant. Let’s hope the publicity
surrounding the new syllabus might even help to address the criminal gap that still
exists in access to history between middle and working-class communities. In
Knowsley, near Liverpool, only 16.8 per cent of pupils entered for history GCSE,
in contrast with 45.4 per cent in Richmond upon Thames. Whole generations are
denied a sense of national belonging – let alone the sheer richness of the past.
But if that is the ambition, the tragedy is that Mr Gove’s curriculum is not the way
to do it. It is too dense, prescriptive and wholly unrealistic about the appropriate
learning. I think my five-year-old is a bright boy, but I fear Digby will struggle with concepts of nationhood and the heptarchy. There is no sense of priority and I doubt if non-specialist primary school teachers can guide pupils from 5th-century Athens tothe 1707 union of Parliaments.
The curriculum also reveals an engrained parochialism. Yes, let’s teach British
history, but in a global context. We want children to have a richer sense of our
national past, but to locate it in an international context. It would be wonderful to
more seven-year-olds to learn of Florence Nightingale, but they could be taught her
work promoting sanitary reform in Bombay. The curriculum highlights “the growth
and industrialisation of cities”, but can the history of Liverpool really be separated
from Ireland or China? And we do need to be very careful about the “unique evil of
the Holocaust”, when, in fact, that evil had a long and dark prehistory.
Ironically, the root of the problem lies in an unfortunate misreading of history. Tony
Blair often reflected that he was too slow with his first-term reforms and Mr Gove,
with his self-appointed bastard acoloyte, has responded with a breakneck programme
of change. As with GCSE abolition, the result is chaos.
Mr Gove needs the humility to listen to teachers and ease up. Gove, the perpetual
journalist, has produced the first draft of history, It requires serious revision. But at
least he cares.
6th March Independent has a curious article "Chalk Talk" about teaching history as mystery: "ChalkTalk. How to Make Those History Lessons Go With a Bang" - Find the article here:http://ind.pn/10hgxlS
4th March Blog by Glen O'Hara with title "England's proposed History Curriculum: Should it really be a political football? is a good piece of policy journalism and Glen reflects that it is not much of a curriculum, and and not much of a 'debate' either. Find the blog:http://tinyurl.com/bv86xmp
4th March Rebecca Atkinson of the Museums Association has asked for feedback from museum practitioners and there are pros and cons from museum professionals to the changes, especially with some keen that a wider chronological range may make very good use of the resources in collections. However, there are concerns that the children and their learning capacity needs to be forefronted. The start of the Museum Association Conversation is here, and will be updated when they complete their consultation. See mus.ms/15zswdy
History curriculum debate on BBC1 Sunday Politics Show
TRANSCRIPTION, SUNDAY 3RDMARCH: 27.55 to 37.51 on iplayer = BITLY: http://t.co/6a07x8LhTq
Now, How’s your History? When you hear the words ‘William of Orange’ do you think of an invading Dutch Monarch, or the Foreign Secretary after a trip to the tanning salon? Are you a bit sketchy about the Reformation but think it may be something to do with Robbie Williams going back to Take That!
Well, it’s a good job Michael Gove is on the case. He has plans to change the way we teach history in schools in England. But what are they and will they work?
Susana Mendonca has been back in time to find out:
[Victorian School Reenactment Sequence filmed at Ragged School, London]
SUSANA MENDONCA, REPORTER
This is School Victorian-style. These nine and ten year olds are on a day trip to London’s Ragged School Museum. But in the future, kids this young won’t have to be taught about the Victorians because the way we teach history is changing.
[Ragged School Sequence: Spelling; and melody …”throw away your books… because I’m going to tell you what cooks”]
So, what cooks for these kids?
VOX POPS WITH YOUNG PRIMARY KIDS [c aged 9]
- I like Romans, I really like the Romans
- I did like the Great Fire of London
- The Egyptians
Yes, pay attention, the Egyptians are not on the new curriculum, but the Romans are, and there will be more focus on chronology and knowledge.
NICK GIBB MP, SCHOOLS MINISTER 2010-12
There is a perception that I think is real, that children are leaving school without a deep knowledge of the chronology of British history and the history of countries that are important to this country. They tend to repeat the same periods of history over again, the Tudors, and then the Second World War, and I think that children need to understand the whole of our history if they are really going to understand Britain.
[Horrible Histories 2ndWW Reenactment Sequence]
One successful attempt to get young children interested in history has been “The Horrible History” series, the programmes’ Historical Consultant thinks the Government’s new curriculum might struggle to engage young minds though:
GREG JENNER, HISTORIAN
What Michael Gove is trying to do here feels a bit like a 19thcentury, rote-learning -type of scholarship, where it’s all about the kids absorbing the facts that are flung at them, rather than talking to children, communicating with them….
[Ragged School Reenactor Sequence:
You will learn these facts by repetition: repeat, repeat, repeat, remember, remember, remember!]
Yes Miss. Back In Victorian times it was all about rote learning, the idea that repeating facts again and again until they stuck in your head. Well, critics of Michael Gove’s plans say that he is heading back in that direction, while supporters think that the balance tipped too far the other way.
The ‘70s saw a move away from text-book-based teaching in Primary Schools (and according to former Schools Minister Nick Gibbs) Secondary Schools began to focus on skills rather than knowledge in 2007. But how much do these kids know?
VOX POPS WITH YOUNG PRIMARY KIDS (c aged 9)
- The Spanish Armada? What Year did they attack England? (umm… I don’t know.. giggle… I seriously don’t know….) Who was the Queen at the time? (…um.. Queen…. Victoria?....) Tell me, who was Brunel? (..um.. I’m just guessing… I think… maybe a Queen?) Do you know what Magna Carta is? (No.. giggle… no, I don’t know)
To be fair, they’ll be a few adults out there, who don’t know the answers to those either….
So - is Mr Gove right or wrong? Two leading historians, Dr David Starkey, and Professor Richard Evans, join me to go “Head to Head”…
Richard Evans, what’s wrong with what Michael Gove is proposing?
PROF SIR RICHARD EVANS, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
There’s a lot of things wrong with what Michael Gove is proposing. First of all, it is a very personal curriculum that he has drawn up. There was a large consultation exercise, consulting teachers, and all kinds of organizations. He pushed that all to one side. And many of these organizations, like the Historical Association, some Conservative Teachers (who are used to teaching in schools), are absolutely horrified. It is a very amateurish set of proposals.
What’s wrong with it is, in particular, that it’s just teaching a Chronicle.
It doesn’t teach the kinds of historical skills which you need to analyze the past, to make up your mind. It is shoving facts down school childrens’ throats without giving them a chance to debate and make up their own minds.
What say you - David Starkey?
DR DAVID STARKEY, HISTORIAN AND BROADCASTER
I think there are two problems with what Richard has just said now. We’ve seen from those clips there, that there is a staggering level of ignorance (& University Challenge demonstrated incontrovertibly because a question on 1688 got an answer from one good student at Bangor that the monarch involved was Elizabeth the First – from another even brighter student, a medical student, la crème de la crème at UCL, that it was William the First, and you know, – we saw ‘out by 600 years’ from Paxo -) Now, that is a problem. Richard doesn’t seem to think that it is. There’s evidence of an extraordinary evacuation of basic historical knowledge. He talks about debate, criticism, but you can’t debate unless you know! This whole skills approach has got it the wrong way round… but I think there’s something much more fundamental…
Before you do go on, please can I just get you to react to that, that you need to know the facts before you can analyze?
No, This is Michael Gove preparing kids to do well in a pub quiz or come top in Mastermind. His curriculum is not about teaching them to understand history and analyze history. The facts don’t come first, they come together with the interpretation, they both belong together, absolutely I agree factual knowledge is really important….
So when should it be taught?
It should be taught, well it should be taught in an age appropriate way. Michael Gove is proposing to get seven year olds to understand early Medieval history, (the Heptarchy, King Athelstan); he wants ten year olds to be able to understand Magna Carta; he wants eleven year olds to understand John Locke for goodness sake, - having a whole chronology of British History from the age of five to fourteen, starting at the beginning and going up to the present is not going to work, it is too much, there’s too much there….
I interrupted you…
(I will interrupt him, that wonderful flow) the problem is, the current curriculum (which Richard is defending) is wholly dishonest. He talks about the need for debate, the need to question everything. Richard – should schools be questioning and debating the Holocaust? Or should they be presenting it as moral fact?
That is a really good point, [Starkey: thank you] because the new curriculum says that children have to learn the unique evil of the Holocaust. Now, there are several problems with that. First of all, it is a moral approach not a historical approach. Secondly, the uniqueness, now that is extraordinarily controversial…
Now Richard forgive me – that is exactly what is going on now - I’ve never heard a single debate in a school on the issue of the molocaust, [giggle], the Holocaust, because it is taught as a moral absolute…
It should be taught as an historical issue ! How can you understand the Holocaust without knowing something [Starkey: we are agreeing] ;how can you understand it without knowing something about the history of anti-Semitism for one thing? [Starkey: of course]; And how can you understand it without knowing something about Germany - Germany does not appear in this entire new curriculum…
Let us take another point – you said you dislike myths and you dislike hero worship. Why have we got Mary Seacole there? Have you looked at the text? [Evans: Yes, I have] which describes Mary Seacole? They describe her in a fashion which is clearly designed to make her the antecedent?
[Starkey gestures to Andrew Neale] Do you remember your dear friend Diane Abbott going on about – [how] we don’t want blonde blue-eyed Scandinavian nurses of the national health - we want good British West Indies? Mary Seacole is being invented on the basis of no evidence whatever as the heroine, the patron, of those nurses. This is a completely… this… the current curriculum is affected completely by current political concerns…
Mary Seacole is in the new curriculum, and there I’m absolutely agreeing with you, what children need to be taught to do, is to look at someone like Mary Seacole and answer some difficult, [Starkey: absolutely] awkward questions [Starkey: absolutely] about her.
But the new curriculum does not combine historical thinking, or skills, on the one hand, with the facts, it just has the facts !
Good, so we are now agreeing Richard, are we, that the current curriculum has fundamental problems?
No, you are generalizing from one tiny example…
No, forgive me, no no no no… because I’ve never seen any evidence in any teaching materials that there is any debate about Mary Seacole. At all.
You get the final word because he has .. a lot…
Well, the current curriculum does a narrative of British history from the age of eleven up to the age of fourteen (let us remember that this is up to the age of fourteen) there’s a whole another bunch of problems about 14 to 16, 16 to 18. But the current curriculum actually is centred on a narrative of British history [Andrew Neil: And you are happy with that] and it combines that with skills and it has some world history and some European history and that is what the new one is absolutely missing, you will have a whole generation of kids leaving school without knowing anything of the history of any other country apart from Britain…
Sorry, just a final second, it really is wrong that the campaign to retain Seacole within the current curriculum was headed by a list of signatories, with Jesse Jackson at the top, in other words, the current curriculum is politically and left-wing skewed, and quite deliberately so, it is a product of the last government, and it needs demolishing now!
And we shall see how many of our viewers have ever heard of Mary Seacole… and you both get a hundred lines for over running….
Letters and articles 18 Feb - 27 Feb
On 27th February we were involved in an interesting debate on air and on twitter via Radio5 Live led by Richard Bacon, responding to the fifteen historians who wrote a Letter published in today's "The Times" in support of Michael Gove's proposals to change the history curriculum. This is now in the teeth of huge opposition by history teachers, both in schools and universities, led by The Historical Association, and The Royal Historical Society. Many involved in the debate today had not had access to the text of "The Times" letter, so here it is, with the fifteen historians identified, incase you want to be in dialgoue with these participants and develop the debate further:
The full text of the historians’ letter to THE TIMES Wednesday 27 February 2013:
We believe that every pupil should have the opportunity to attain a broad and comprehensive knowledge of English and British history. Alongside other core subjects of the curriculum, mathematics, English, sciences and modern languages, history has a special role in developing in each and every individual a sense of their own identity as part of a historic community with world-wide links, interwoven with the ability to analyse and research the past that remains essential for a full understanding of modern society.
It should be made possible for every pupil to take in the full narrative of our history throughout every century. No one would expect a pupil to be denied the full range of the English language; equally, no pupil should any longer be denied the chance to obtain a full knowledge of the rich tapestry of the history of their own country, in both its internal and international dimensions.
It is for this reason that we give our support in principle to the changes to the new national curriculum for history that the government is proposing. While these proposals will no doubt be adapted as a result of full consultation, the essential idea that a curriculum framework should ensure that pupils are given an overall understanding of history through its most important changes, events and individuals is a welcome one. Above all, we recognise that a coherent curriculum that reflects how events and topics relate to one another over time, together with a renewed focus in primary school for history, has long been needed. Such is the consensus view in most countries of Europe. We also welcome the indication that sufficient freedom will in future be given to history teachers to plan and teach in ways which will revitalise history in schools.
We are in no doubt that the proposed changes to the curriculum will provoke controversy among those attached to the status quo and suspicious of change. Yet we must not shy away from this golden opportunity to place history back at the centre of the national curriculum and make it part of the common culture of every future citizen.
Professor David Abulafia FBA
Antony Beevor FRSL
Professor Jeremy Black
Professor Michael Burleigh
Professor John Charmley
Professor J.C.D. Clark
Professor Niall Ferguson
Dr Amanda Foreman
Professor Jeremy Jennings
Dr Simon Sebag Montefiore
Dr Andrew Roberts
Chris Skidmore MP
Professor David Starkey FSA
Professor Robert Tombs
Letters to the Editor: THE TIMES Thursday 28 2013
(4 short rejoinders to yesterday's Letter from "the historians" - in this order
DR SEAN LANG
PROF NIGEL SAUL
Letter to the SPECTATOR by Jackie Eales, President, Historical Association
Printed in edition dated 3 March 2013
Gove’s idea of history
Sir: Toby Young (Status anxiety, 23 February) can’t quite believe how many professional historians have denounced the new history curriculum, but if so many of us are against it, perhaps we have a point. I am glad that he agrees with our recent statement that history is a ‘treasure house’. There is a crucial difference here, however: he sees it as a repository of knowledge, whereas we described it as ‘a treasure house of human experience’. Yes, this does mean that we advocate learning about bias and the complexities of social and gender history, as well as the facts of political and military history.
The new proposals require children to gallop through the centuries to 1700 by the time they leave primary school. Everything else must be crammed in before they can drop history at age 13 or 14. There is thus little chance that they will remember, or even understand, much about the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods.
There is surely a major inconsistency here in the thinking of Michael Gove. On the one hand, free schools are allowed to devise their own course content; on the other, the minister wants to micromanage which gobbets of history should be studied in maintained schools. The idea that there is a canonical body of knowledge that must be mastered, but not questioned, is inconsistent with high standards of education in any age. Even the new English curriculum does not impose a list of great authors, apart from Shakespeare, on teachers. Yet under the new proposals, history teachers are advised to teach the poet Christina Rossetti, as an example of ‘creative’ genius, and the novelist George Eliot as an example of Victorian social and cultural development. Professional historians are indeed wary of such ministerial tinkerings, not because we are a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool lefties as Toby Young fondly imagines, but because they will do nothing to raise standards or to create a freer educational system.
Professor Jackie Eales
President of the Historical Association, History and American Studies,
Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent
"OPINION" PIECE ON PAGE 25 - THE TIMES - Thursday February 28 2013
Mr Gove and his horrible heptarchical history
Trying to cram in everything from Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to Thatcher is not only impossible but utterly wrong
I think that if I were a history teacher at an English school now it would be a good time to kill myself. Preferably using a method that the Education Secretary would approve of, such as opening my veins in the bath or indulging in a surfeit of lampreys.
Earlier this month Michael Gove published draft "Programmes of Study for History" in the national curriculum and invited responses to be in by April. The draft follows one of our periodic convulsions about two of our national neuroses in times of change: what's happening to our kids? And what's happening to our nation? Put them together and, given that we're not going to change anything at home, it usually means a shake-up in schools.
Just as everyone is an expert in marketing, everyone is an expert when it comes to education. We take our own school experience (however vaguely remembered), or whatever we have managed to pick up - between the "fine, Dad" and "it was OK"s - of our kids' school lives, and we generalise. Boy, do we generalise.
A few weeks ago the Guardian writer Martin Kettle came back from a play about Charles I that he'd seen with his grown-up son. The son confessed that "he had reached adult life knowing almost nothing about the English Civil War". Kettle felt this was a shocking statement. "The English need to learn their own history." Five days ago William Dalyrympe, the travel writer and historian, was worrying about another omission from the history lessons. "My own children", he complained, "learnt Tudors, and the Nazis over and over again in history class, but never came across a whiff of Indian history."
Dalrymple's concern, in the light of David Cameron's visit to the site of the 1919 Amristar massacre, was not national consciousness but that pupils were being deprived of a historical moral education. "Most people who go through the British education system", he claimed, "are wholly ill-equipped to judge either the good or the bad in what we did to the rest of the world." His argument, distilled, was this: children need to know, from studying the British Empire, that empires are always bloody businesses.
Yesterday on our own letters page was a roundrobinocracy of (mostly) right-of-centre historians, embracing the Govian proposals. Some of them are friends of mine and all of them are writers I enjoy reading. The letter I enjoyed less. "No pupil", they chorused, "should any longer be denied the chance to obtain a full knowledge of the rich tapestry of the history of their own country, in both its internal and international dimensions"
Children forget things. Maybe Josh had viola practice that day
I have written before that anyone using the phrase "rich tapestry" should be executed and I cannot make an exception for popular historians. Especially since what lies at the heart of their view was the assertion of a "special role" history has "developing in each and every individual a sense of their own identity".
So, there's the common assumption lying behind all this curricular upheaval - ie, that we don't teach much English history in English schools. And the only problem with this is that it's a myth. Look online at the curriculums for state schools and you'll see loads of English history, invariably including the English Revolution and usually something about the Empire. It's obvious what's happened here: pre-GCSE parents don't take that much notice of what their kids are doing in lesson-by-lesson detail, and children forget things they've been taught. Maybe Josh had viola practice that day, or Poppy was off with a cold.
Because blink and you've missed it. The historian David Cannadine took the unusual step a couple of years back of actually examining what schools did. He found that one big answer was "too much". With history not being compulsory after 14, a curriculum originally designed for eight years is being squeezed into six. They dash through it.
And now they'll dash through the centuries even more. And even more prescriptively if the draft becomes the curriculum. In Key Stage 2 (that's primary school, age 8-11) the draft begins: "pupils should be taught the following chronology of British History sequentially...[they] should be taught about key dates, events, and significant individuals. They should also be given the opportunity to learn about local history". And also "ancient civilisations".
There then follow 40 specified headings dealing with British history, to be taught in the 99 hours that the children will, on recommendation, have available to learn history in that three years. They include, at age 8, the "heptarchy" - an anachronistic term for seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms - and "key developments in the reigns of Alfred, Athelstan, Cnut (good luck with that one on the whiteboard) and Edward the Confessor." Athelstan? The heptarchy? Oh, and by the way, since you are the Department of Education, it's just "Domesday book" not "the Domesday book".
At 11, Key Stage 2, pupils will encompass "the Enlightenment in England, including Francis Bacon, John Locke, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, Adam Smith", oh sorry "and the impact of European thinkers". They'll do this, with another 60 specified headings in the 135 hours they have available. No illnesses. No staff absences. No snow days. Any of those and you'll wreck the tapestry.
From 8 to 14 English children will learn about history - with not one mention of China. Not one. The heptarchy, yes. The oldest civilisation on Earth and not its second largest economy? No.
I am amazed to have to write this but what lies behind this stupidity is a profoundly mistaken and ahistorical idea of what the discipline is. It's history as bastard civics. History with social and political objectives: to cement the nation, weave the tapestry, to "bring us together", to educate us morally. It's like demanding that physics concentrate on the achievements of British physicists or geography miss out the rainforests because you don't get many of those down our way.
This isn't the history I've loved all my life. History, the endless curiosity about how people lived; the discipline of discovering the past by using and evaluating sources, balancing claims, coming to senses of likeliehood and causality.
This is instead rote indoctrination, fuelled by anxiety and done at absurd speed. The citizens of tomorrow won't love it, won't recall it, and they won't thank us for it. So pass the lampreys.
Alex Ford on the Hodder Blog
Whose History?: Alex Ford's critique
Although I believe it is the ideological underpinnings of the curriculum that we must challenge, it is worth pointing out that, beyond other concerns, the proposals are just fundamentally unworkable. In a year, History departments across England will be asked to throw away their schemes of work for Years 7, 8 and 9, along with thousands of pounds worth of resources that go with them. Where will all of these go? Who will be coming up with replacement resources? More importantly, who will be controlling the content of these? Will the government be producing an approved core text for historical study, with all the overtones thereby implied: The story of Britain from primitive times to world power or even Britain from Ethelred to Thatcher – A Story of Improvement? What worries me more, is that someone, somewhere probably is writing one of these, or something very similar. Again, we cannot let this be the factor which determines the historical diet of our children.
When my department were engaged with re-writing our Key Stage 3 schemes of work at the end of 2010, we spent a long time considering, and arguing heatedly over, the aims of History. Ultimately we concluded that History was about helping children to not just blindly accept the world for what it says it is but to always be questioning it. Gove’s new curriculum undermines this with its prescriptive diet of events which build a false sense of national pride. We decided that History should help to make children into better citizens by engaging them with a wide range of historical narratives, and encouraging them to appreciate their place in the broad sweep of humanity; recognising a common experience which goes beyond national and temporal boundaries. Gove’s curriculum dismantles this through its narrow focus on Britishness, a white, male Britishness, a divisive, insidious and reactionary Britishness with little focus on ordinary humanity. Finally we agreed that History provides freedom. Teachers and students, we said, have opportunities to pursue their own interests and ideas because it involves the whole of human experience. Again, Gove’s curriculum rips professional choice and student interest from the heart of the subject. It reduces it to a dry, dusty trudge through the lives and actions of a privileged class of people and the decisions they made. It is a curriculum devoid of freedom, with a suffocating range of content which stifles teachers and blinkers children to the real historical world around them. As Braudel famously said 'The history of events [is merely the history of] surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs...'. Yet here is a curriculum which is all foam and no substance, surely we deserve better.
There seems to be a growing body of people criticising Gove’s educational reforms. Michael Riley for instance has provided an excellent response to the proposals on behalf of the Schools History Project, and Twitter is awash with people denouncing this narrowed, ideologically driven revision. The real challenge now will be to combine all of these battles and wage a real war against Gove’s neo-liberal education agenda. But where will the impetus come for this? For twenty years schooling has been turned into a game (Gunter, 2011) where leadership is about the promotion, and the implementation of national initiatives rather than the true leadership of education. Our 'school leaders' have for too long been chosen on their ability to follow instructions and delegate rather than through engagement with the profession. So in the absence of resistance from the top, the profession itself must take up the vanguard. History teachers are some of those who have the most to lose under these reforms, not least in terms of our professional freedom. Because of this, we must be the front line in stopping Gove's agenda moving any further. It is all too easy to decry the problems of the curriculum but do nothing. Now is the time to stand up and be counted. If nothing else, being a History teacher shows us the power of mass, unified action.
First and foremost we must respond in the strongest terms to the consultation which is now on-going. Time is of the essence and Gove’s department will be monitoring reactions very closely now. Beyond this there needs to be a clear campaign of resistance against this attempt to control of our history. Write to your MP, write to the government, take part in the consultation (now that it is working again), contact your local universities, most importantly, don’t let this issue fall out of the news. Gove has backed down before, so this is not an unwinnable campaign. Already there is a groundswell against what Gove is trying to do, bringing together people from very different backgrounds. This is not a case of the 'usual suspects' railing against the Tories, what Gove wants to do with History will damage our profession and remove the right of children in England to receive a broad and balanced History education. The 'Save School History' campaign is already trying to gather unified support. You can join their Facebook group here http://www.facebook.com/SaveSchoolHistory
or follow them on Twitter @SaveOur_History. United as a profession, we do have the power to challenge these reforms before it is too late.
History is part of all our identities, it must not be a tool of political control, or a dog whistle to those on the right who want to see Britishness and nationalism as the only products of our schooling system. History teachers need to make a stand, we need to refuse to teach this perverse national narrative and resist attempts to de-professionalise us. History will always be part of the curriculum in England, the real question is, whose history do we want it to be?
LETTER TO THE TIMES
Richard Evans, Regius Professor, Cambridge University
Beware Meddling with the History Curriculum
Mr Gove’s proposals ‘will produce a generation who know nothing about the history of the world beyond these shores’
Sir, History is an academic discipline like physics or medicine; one must not confuse it with popular memory, as your leader writer (Feb 27) seems to do. Teaching history in our schools is not a matter of passing “historical memory” on to the next generation; among other things, it’s about learning how to apply skills of critical analysis to the remains the past has left behind; it’s about interrogating and questioning myths, not uncritically repeating them.
The national curriculum, which Mr Gove seeks to replace, does not replace whole chunks of the British past with “Hitler and Henrys”. Your leader writer is confusing the lamentable situation with GCSE, AS and A level – where it is possible to repeat these topics again and again at different stages – with the excellent national curriculum, which takes pupils only up to 14, before GCSE begins. The curriculum already requires the teaching of British history from 1066 to the present, so at 14, if the curriculum is properly taught (a big if), pupils will indeed leave school with a sense of “the great arc of British history”.
Vague notions of “empathy” have not been taught in school history lessons for ages, but the schools of analysis and criticism have, along with a good dose of European and World history to enable pupils to gain some grasp of societies and cultures other than their own. Mr Gove now proposes to do away with these things. His amateurish proposals will produce a generation who know nothing about the history of the world beyond these stories and lack the ability to question the past, look at “heroes” with a critical eye, or approach politically loaded terms such as the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 with the scepticism they merit.
Richard Evans, Regius Professor, Cambridge University
OTHER LETTERS – TRANSCRIPTIONS COMING SOON
- GILES MARSHALL, HEAD OF SIXTH FORM, SUTTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL, SURREY
- - RICHARD MOSELEY, ALDERMASTON, BERKS
- RACHEL HUNTLEY, HEAD OF HISTORY, MALVERN ST JAMES, WORCS