Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Future of History - it's out of order.

An open letter to Michael Gove (shadow Education secretary).

Dear Mr. Gove,

I am pleased that you are planning to get some of the 'finest minds in Britain' together to take another look at the National Curriculum should the Conservatives get into office.

However, to assert that history should be taught 'in order' is a mistake for two reasons.

One of the primary benefits we derive from learning history is alternative perspective. The past really is a foreign country. Not only did they do things differently there, but the finest minds of the age made assumptions that we find alien and almost mind boggling. Kings claimed divine authority to rule, scientists firmly believed that fire was an element called Phlogiston and people didn't have computers.

Showing children that there are other ways of living and thinking gives them the invaluable ability to start asking questions about the assumptions of our own society.

Understanding that things change because of the discoveries and actions of individuals means that children learn that they too can be significant. These realisations don't come if children just scratch the surface of history with dates and events - they need to be completely immersed in a different cultural and historical landscape. From this view it doesn't matter which period of history and which part of the world, although the further away temporally and geographically the more pronounced the differences become.

I was taught history in order. Starting with the Egyptians and the Romans in primary school we made our way through the Victorians at Juniors before arriving at WW2 by the time we reached GCSE. The problem with this approach is that I never touched the ancient world after the age of 7 and the Tudors passed me by before my teens. Like the whole of the rest of the nation I learned more about WW2 than the rest of history put together. Revisiting the classical world at an older age would have been instructive, broadened my horizons and provided new points of comparison.

An overarching narrative is important, but something as simple as a pictoral timeline round the classroom can show where the studied event fits into historical 'order'.

History is a wonderful and essential part of every child's education and I am glad that you are thinking about it seriously and discussing it publicly. In this light I look forward to your response to the points raised above.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Chilvers

1 comment:

  1. Very strongly seconded! Well put.