Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Should History be Compulsory?

This is a somewhat biased question for me since I have enjoyed history since the age of ten, so of course it should be compulsory, at least to GCSE. History is the most important subject, it teaches us about who we are, how we got here, everything from the interesting, the inspiring to the downright unpleasant (because the ugly parts cannot be ignored). There are a multitude of areas within history that I believe should be taught to kids, but where to start? This is the hard part since everybody has different ideas – Battle of Hastings? Henry VIII? Waterloo? Hitler? Thatcher? Civil Rights? I adore American history, so my idea of a national curriculum would be heavily biased towards that, though I can’t deny that London history should be included more in schools, especially the slave trade and the social environment of London. But that's just me...

What’s annoying though is the constant hijacking of history by politicians, who use it as a benchmark to teach kids about identity and patriotism – sorry, whose identity? I don’t want to be preached at, or told what to believe or feel through the highly selective process of choosing historical events that suit a political argument. Michael Gove, the education secretary, needs to avoid the trap of past politicians (though I’m not holding out hope) – history shouldn’t be a celebratory history of the British Isles, a story of progress without struggle, a story of great battles without the ugly side of colonialism.

The other problem is teaching – you can have an excellent curriculum but it’s the teachers that matter. I have been incredibly lucky to have been taught by amazing teachers (through school, college and uni) who clearly enjoyed what they were doing so much, they taught history in a fun, and interesting way. Friends at the same school with different teachers had the complete opposite experience, ditching history as fast as they could because it was too “boring”. This makes me want to tear my hair out. History isn’t about reciting facts – it’s about people, their experiences, and what life was like for them five hundred years ago or fifty. To get people involved in history, schools should take advantage of local heritage sites – nothing beats seeing something you’ve read in class - reading about a castle isn’t the same as standing inside it.

There needs to be a dramatic shake-up of the national curriculum, but history is essential. We need it, and we can’t forget it.

No comments:

Post a Comment