Tuesday, 15 September 2009

History in Britain's Schools

The debate on the teaching of History in Britain’s schools continues with the modern historian Dominic Sandbrook writing in today’s Daily Telegraph. The bestselling author of White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties (Abacus) puts much of the blame on ‘progressive educationists’ who ‘did away with old-fashioned essay questions and replaced them with empathy exercises and multiple-choice quizzes that sacrificed any sense of intellectual depth or discipline’. He also points out that it was the last Conservative government who downgraded history from a compulsory to an optional subject at the age of 16; neither major party emerges with much credit on this matter.

Sandbrook concludes that the study of History,
‘ought to be the centrepiece of the education system, a long and thoughtful expedition, not a botched and half-hearted day-trip to which most children are no longer invited. And one day, I suspect, we will look back and judge that our Government’s ignorance and neglect of that wonderful, dazzling, irresistible country was among the greatest of its failures and the most unforgivable of its many betrayals.’
Who could disagree?

One further point. Following on from Tristram Hunt and Ann Whitelock’s endorsement of H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story in our current edition (Terry Deary: History Made Horrible?, September 2009), Sandbrook makes the claim that this children’s history of England, published in 1905 (!), ‘still gives a more entertaining overall account of our national story than most modern textbooks’. Surely it is not beyond a publisher to create a modern version of this potentially huge bestseller. I'm off to talk with my agent.

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