14 September 2009

School daze

According to the Mail, History is 'in danger' with only 30% taking it at GCSE, while 30% don't teach history as a stand-alone subject at key stage three (years 7-9), and one in three primary school children thought Churchill was the first man on the moon

Amazingly even the Independent have taken a negative view, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes:

History may soon become extinct in our secondary schools, go the way of domestic science and handwriting classes, only less missed and less lamented than either. A major new study by the Historical Association and teacher training experts found that three out of 10 comprehensives no longer bother to teach the subject, which isn't part of the core curriculum after the age of 13. Only 30 per cent do GCSE history.

Right, so only 30% take history, pretty bad eh?

Well actually considering it's totally optional that's not a bad figure is it? 30%...

Let's have a look at the top 10 GCSEs (2008), sorry I couldn't find percentages:

1. Maths
2. English
3. English Lit
4. Science
5. Additional Science (that replaced 'double science' we oldies did)
6. DT
7. History
8. Art
9. Geography
10. French

So it's seventh - and five of those above it are compulsory...

So basically it's the second most popular optional subject - hardly dying is it? It's beating French, which became completely optional more recently than history, and even Geography (and gasp...media studies!)

So where exactly is the problem here? I can understand the argument that more people should appreciate their history, but the fact that 30% of kids are choosing to take it is not a bad thing taken in context - it's actually doing very well at GCSE, if the argument is that all kids should do it then take that to the government and the people who made the curriculum - because right now all you're saying is that every optional subject (bar perhaps D.T) is 'dying'...

If it's a shame that so few are taking it then lobby the government to make it compulsory because you believe it is more important than geography and art, but don't try and present a 30% take-up as a failure simply because you believe everyone should study it

Speaking as someone with a GCSE, A-level and even a bachelor's degree in the subject I am a tad biased, I admit - but somewhat oddly you might think, I would not want all kids to do the subject - history, while I may love it, is not as vital as Maths, English and the sciences to our skills or understanding of the world, it's close, but you simply won't get all kids to 'do' history as a proper subject if they aren't into dates, wars and dead people - I'm pretty sure we had under 50% of my year doing when I did it ten years ago, and of that there were probably only a handful of us who really were interested - 100% of kids doing history would just relegate it to the forced battle we already have in English and maths classes, things which we actually need to try and teach the blighters, it's not as important so it wouldn't be worth the bother, frankly

Yes, a basic knowledge of history is a good thing, but you don't need to force kids to learn something they don't see as ever needing (and possibly won't) and you can teach history in far more ways than as a formal subject - we can see history in the sciences - I remember learning about Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Curie, Einstein, Boyle et all and how they discovered things, and likewise English literature basically is history - we all learn bloody Shakespeare! The man was a historian, just put him and Dickens into a bit of context and you're pretty much there, and you can use religion just as easily with the reformation, 'Bloody Mary' and other various religious wars, even geography uses historical case studies (e.g. migration in the industrial revolution, general world trends etc...) - history is all around us!

As for one in three primary schoolchildren kids thought Churchill went to the moon - here is the old story about it

It was a survey of 4-10 year olds (I think - I can't find the actual survey there) and 30% got Churchill wrong - now forgive me but within that age range 30% would approximately represent 2 years - I would hazard a guess that more 4-6 year olds got it wrong than 8-10 year olds - would I expect my 6-year-old nephew to know about Churchill? He might, but I don't expect him to - I would hope he'll know soon, but six is still pretty young, he's still learning writing and numbers...hardly reciting 'we will fight them on the beaches...'

Indeed if I remember the early 90s correctly I'm pretty sure year 6 was very heavy on World War 2 and I can't remember doing it before then - Romans in year 3 or 4, dinosaurs before that, the reformation and Henry VIII was in year 5...

So if they would like this figure to have any real weight how about they just test kids leaving primary school at ages 10-11, rather than asking 4-year olds about Winston Churchill

Jesus wept...


In other related news, there's been some backlash from 'the right' with regard to a survey that
'found three-quarters of teachers believed it was their duty to warn pupils about the danger of patriotism ' (Mail)
Intriguing, here you can read the lovely Melanie Philips' take on it, and it's even doing the rounds in the blogosphere, here's Cranmer's take (see: Sat 12 Sept 09)

Bad lefties ruining our national pride, that sort of stuff

But why exactly should we promote 'patriotism' - or love of one's country? Why in particular, should a science/maths/art teacher be interested in promoting a patriotic view - 'here we have Newton's first law, he was English you know, BE PROUD OF BRITAIN!'

Wouldn't simply allowing children to know Newton was English suffice? There are plenty of reasons to be proud of our country - why do teachers need to tell us to be proud? And does that mean we should view Newton and Darwin as 'better' than Einstein or the Curies? It doesn't seem to fit in the remit of a teacher to me

Certainly the most obvious area for this would be in history - now history to my mind is all about analysis, debate and critical thinking - saying 'the British Empire was excellent' like they did in 1950s O-levels is opinionated rubbish and barely anything to do with understanding history - force-feeding sentiment about our past is not a good thing for historical studies

It is of course, great for the Right in this country, because it's what they want to hear - in reality people should be given the facts and make up their own minds on whether they are proud of their country or not - brainwashing kids into saying 'Britain's great' is not particularly worthwhile - kids get enough nationalism through the press as it is, and younger ones aren't capable of understanding why it's great except that's what they're told - it's like religion, even I came out of school pretty nationalistic and ignorant about this country

And can you blame teachers for avoiding patriotism when they have the fun of teaching the two world wars? - Both were fuelled by blind patriotism and nationalism - and to those who say there's a major difference, I say poppy-cock - both encourage blind loyalty to a nation, nationalism is just the political principle that has been marred by its association with modern far-right groups - in its very essence it simply believes in the nation as a sovereign political entity, patriotism is the love of that nation (in our case anyway) - they're interlinked, how can a child who is told that their country is worth loving more than others not view other countries as lesser and end up with some degree of nationalism?

Of course, they hype it up to say that these teachers are lefties bent on communism and strengthening the EU, when in reality they are probably just being mindful of the fact that telling impressionable young children to be proud of their country just breeds trouble - I am proud of my country, hate the EU and yet would want my children to be wary of unquestioning patriotism - so am I a Marxist?

It's not that I mind British patriotism, I am proud of my country - but I can make up my own mind, and I don't think everything this country has done is great - surely telling children to be unquestioningly proud for reasons they can't question yet is just brainwashing, and I would be a hypocrite to suggest pushing my point of view on children when I oppose religion for doing the exact same thing

Give them the facts, this doesn't mean that you have to teach that Britain is bad - nor does that survey indicate anything of the sort, it just means letting them make up their own minds about our history


I have read lots on this new ISA vetting agency - and let's face it, I agree with pretty much everyone in this country, and would only echo the press with my views on it, it's Orwellian and pretty sickening

But what I will ask is this: Is this a step towards needing a licence to have children?

You are being vetted based on pretty limited contact with kids, even to the point where other parents are being vetted for being near your kids - surely the next logical step is to vet all parents - probably one of the biggest risk areas for abuse?

Answers on a postcard...

1 comment:

  1. bloody hell, that was long, but good stuff

    I think youre right about the licence to have kids, it seems inevitable if labour win again, good job they wont