Friday, 20 July 2007

Do we ever learn?

All these responsible holders of public office coming out and confessing their despicable, albeit fleeting, cannabis use....Gosh, surely honesty is not being spun as the best policy on this one....? The question is, of course, does the public care? Of course we don't, hence the disclosures. I, for one, don't give a monkeys if every single immaculately suited, middle-class paper pusher in Whitehall had a few tokes with their mates at uni. Congratulations you've outed yourselves, what a splash.

I'm more concerned, however, on hearing that history is becoming an undesirable, poorly structured subject in today's schools (especially as there are so many good history teachers out there). And will Government listen to Ofsted and reform the subject for the better? Three years ago Charles Clarke (then Education Secretary) said that history, as an academic subject, had no place in the modern world. I remember the incident as I was sitting the first year of my history degree at the time. I was not impressed. What Mr Clarke meant was that studying history does not leave you that many firm job prospects in the modern world (true enough...). Nevertheless to be any good at the subject you have to be able to research well, construct arguments and write persuasively. Still useful skills.

I may be biased but I firmly believe that history has a fundamental place in the education of young people. As empirical creatures we naturally create (and distort) our own history's every day - curse our large, hyperactive craniums - and what the human race does collectively, over notable periods of time, is of even more interest because we hope to learn from past trends. I think school children do learn from history (even if they don't yet understand the what's on the text book isn't necessarily true, its just some old duffer's interpritation of events).

And now the subject is a political issue. History repeats itself as children cover the rise of Nazism and appeasement again and again (I remember studying the topic for both GCSE and A Level five years ago) and still fail to grasp the main themes and hypothetical questions that arise from the past. I believe a wider range of historical periods should be taught, along with some attempt to link chronologies. Everyone likes time lines....

Politicians are now extolling the virtues of history as a social adhesive. Citizenship classes are not working and history should take up the burden, concentrating on "positive" British history and the history of minority groups. The labelling of positive and negative history is risible but a greater focus on the subject is certainly welcome (I believe it should be made compulsory). As long as kids get to cover a broad range of periods, with suitable props (I had a wonderful teacher who insisted on longbow lessons) the subject should hopefully inspire generations to come.


James said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure your persuasive writing skills are quite persuasive enough on this one.

All subjects have their merits and an argument can be made for all those currently taught in school and many others that aren't. Unfortunately there is only so many hours in a school week and only so much info that can be stuffed into the little receipts grey matter.

Your claim that history provides the ability to "research well, construct arguments and write persuasively" is fine but wouldn't a quicker way be to take a course on essay writing.

It all boils down to what the education system is tailored towards. Is it to produce rounded individuals with a breadth of knowledge, many talents but master of none, and pretty good in pub quizzes, or is it to produce people for the work place and what the country requires. For example if the country requires more engineers, should we be incentivising that subject?

While history may be an interesting subject what use is it for 99% of the population? I am interested to hear your views on this as a historian. Many subjects teach history within the subject itself such as political history or economic history. I'm not against history and I think history is an interesting and enlightening subject but we can't learn everything. What subjects should be sacrificed to make way for more History?

Jenny! said...

History was my favorite subject in school, but I found it to be biased and skips some things!

Em said...

None. I didn't say more history at primary and secondary level. I never said that poeple should learn everything, you misinterprit me. Just better structured lessons would be nice (see Jenny's succinct comment below yours) any more emphasis on the study and creation of history and the difference between the two.

You really think "tailoring" at such a young age is fair? That's right for the few and not the many...I'm not railling against vocational, practical subjects in the slightest (took A Level Physics, thought about going that way myseelf at one point), they're paramount to the improvement of our economy and progress.

The idea (that you almost imply)that history should be removed is horrible. With bright human beings there will always be a desire to know what came before, which is the fundamental reason for teaching history but do you think learning about politics, economics, military progress, philosophy and religion is merely "interesting"? Shocking.

Go check out the number of financial CEOs with arts degrees.