The teaching of history

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tory Historian cannot let the somewhat idiotic report put together by the Historical Association (who ought to know better) and published by the DfES (Department for Education and Skills, since you ask) go by without some comment.

There has been an astonishing amount of shock-horror type harrumphing in the media and on the blogosphere about the fact that in some schools teachers have given up teaching the Holocaust because some of the students have been brainwashed by their imams into denying it.

The question to be asked, surely, is why were they teaching it in the first place. Come to think of it, why were they teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict? A completely inappropriate subject for history teaching in schools.

The real problem is that there is no serious teaching of history going on in our education system, just the exposition of bitty little topics, put together, it sometimes seems through the whim of those who write the curriculum and expounded by teachers, many of whom are half-educated themselves.

It has been a matter of grim amusement for all those who care about the teachng of history that children in British schools learn a little bit about the Roman army (if they are lucky), some Tudors'n'Stuarts (most of which is a question of empathizing), a certain amount of the evils of the slave trade as shown exclusively by the British, a certain amount about the evils of the Industrial Revolution and the Holocaust. That's it. Hardly a satisfactory introduction to historical knowledge.

Small wonder most children find the learning of history at school incredibly dull and even smaller wonder that narrative histories and historical programmes on TV are incredibly popular. People feel they have been cheated of what they should have been taught at an earlier age.

The title of the report tells us all we need to know about the problem and the way it is avoided by the Historical Association: "T.E.A.C.H. - Teaching Emotive and Controversial History 3 - 19".

All history can be emotive and controversial and if you don't belive me, have a look at the way history is used by various sides in places where the conflicts are not dead. Furthermore, all imaginative children will find history emotive. Being a Yorkist or Lancastrian, Cavalier or Roundhead, American Patriot or Loyalist used to be the stuff of games and, let's face it, fights.

It is, therefore, Tory Historian's contention that the Holocaust should not be taught, except as part of a course on twentieth century history, which comes at the end of the process. History teaching should start at the beginning and go forward in a chronological fashion.

Some of it will be emotive and controversial - there may well be children who get quite excited about Boudicca and the Romans slugging it out - but at least there will be a basis of knowledge imparted to the children.

Incidentally, proper teaching of the history of British Empire, good sides and bad, will give a narrative to the British Muslims that will be rooted in historical facts rather than fantasies. After all, what could be more emotive than the story of the soldiers of the Empire who volunteered to fight for King and Country twice in the twentieth century?


  1. Old BE Says:
  2. I was lucky enough to be taught "medieval" history rather than "modern" for GCSE - what I learnt is far more "useful" than the stuff my peers learnt!

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. If you are dealing with something like the Holocaust, isn't it even more sensible to adopt a reverse chronology starting with, say, the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon and the power of the Jewish Lobby in the United States, and then work backwards through, say, the Jewish experience in Russia, Spain, York...., Masada, &c, through to Greece and the original technical religious concept of a holocaust? Then you can sensibly begin to deal with the corruption of meaning as ideas are disseminated across cultures and over time only to end up abbreviated into misleading political buzzwords in our own.

  5. Anonymous Says:
  6. Have you ever had to attempt to impart historical knowledge to 30 14 year olds who would rather be somewhere else? Teachers have to rely on visual sources since traditional text based approaches are deemed too difficult for modern students.
    Anyone who believes that educational standards are higher now than they were 20 years ago should compare O level text books with the contemporary versions. The brutal fact is that most children do not read and it is virtually impossible to encourage them to do so by the sort of texts that may appeal to correspondents of journals such as this.
    I speak as someone still bearing the scars of a history PGCE course 4 years ago.

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