Sunday, May 11, 2008

The importance of teaching the ‘real history’ of Britain

The Daily Mail reports on the story of the headmaster of an independent school who has scrapped the ‘PC syllabus' in order ‘to teach pupils the REAL (sic) history of Britishness’. In particular, the school is addressing the deficiencies in the teaching of religious education, history and geography, because they ‘fail to give pupils a proper understanding of Britain's past’.

While Cranmer is wholly supportive of this headmaster, he is a little puzzled by the inference of a pedagogical revelation, and also by the suggestion that this constitutes a minor revolution in private education, for private schools have never been bound by the limitations of the National Curriculum, and have never therefore been obliged to conform to any ‘PC syllabus’.

Headmaster Richard Cairns said children ‘loved being told historical stories’ but the ‘official curriculum had reduced traditional subjects to a collection of “bite-sized” topics and skills’. Again, the ‘official curriculum’ is denigrated, while a very great deal would be down to individual teachers. ‘Bite-sized’ teachers tend to deliver ‘bite-sized’ lessons, and it is poor teaching, not the ‘official curriculum’, which is to blame for the fact that ‘around a quarter of children believed Winston Churchill was a fictional character and many more were unable to place countries such as Afghanistan on a map’.

And so Mr Cairns’ new curriculum is called ‘From Nero to Ground Zero’, and intends to cover ‘the broad sweep of history from zero AD to the 21st century over six lessons a week’. We are told: ‘Geography and RE would be introduced for example through studying volcanoes while covering Pompeii or Jewish immigration to Britain in the 19th century’.

How can teaching on volcanoes have ever been ‘PC’? Is the flow of lava subject to gender? Was Vesuvius portrayed as a judgement on the homosexual orgies of Pompeii? In geography, Cranmer is more concerned with the brainwashing of the nation’s children against capitalism, the reams of free ‘information’ being poured into the nation’s schools by the EU with an unquestioning adherence to the CAP, the warped perspectives of ‘child exploitation’ in the third world, and the exaltation of the green agenda with the ‘truth’ of global warming. Geography teachers tend to be pathological Europhiliac, U.N.-supporting Socialists, and any questioning of their learning is met with derision.

Cranmer agrees with Mr Cairns when he observes that too many children ‘have no sense of their history, no sense of their past and no sense of the historical landscape that surrounds them every day’. He observes: ‘We go to great lengths in England quite rightly to understand the culture of others who have come to England but don't provide as much time as we should for children to understand our own culture. We should stop being ashamed of being British. We very hesitant about talking about the past because obviously in the past in every society people did things we would not do today. Slavery existed - that was wrong. But Britain had an important role in the development of the world for good or ill.’

And is music to the ears that he has the support of the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Michael Gove MP, who suggests ‘trendy 1960s and 1970s teaching theories were still prevalent in schools and even gaining ground in subjects such as history and science’.

He observes that too much teaching was ‘child centred’ and failed to pass on to pupils core bodies of knowledge. Children are ‘instead being encouraged to master "skills" and empathise with historical characters’. He states: “Part of the problem with the way the history curriculum has developed is that it doesn't give people a proper understanding of how this country has developed. The history curriculum doesn't give people the opportunity to take pride in this country's story. I don't think there has been such an emphasis on narrative and causality because there has been too much emphasis on empathy and skills."

And all of this Mr Gove attributes to ‘progressive educational theories’ which have ‘damaged the prospects of generations’. And yet these are ‘still in favour across much of the so-called "educational establishment".’

And his remedy is that ‘children needed to be taught knowledge as well as skills so they could "truly become masters of the best that's been thought, spoken and written".’

And it is this ‘knowledge’ which will present problems, for there are so few teachers familiar with the notion of epistemological tensions that they genuinely believe that their opinion is fact, and they are blindly content to dispense the perspectives of one textbook (or the degree they earned 20 years ago) as if it were revealed scripture. And when one reads accounts of the conferences of the National Union of Teachers, it is certain that something needs to be done, for it is indeed the ‘educational establishment’ that will hold back much-needed reform in education.

Is there just a hint in Mr Gove’s analysis that he is considering abolishing the National Curriculum, and that he intends to take on the National Union of Teachers in the same fashion as Margaret Thatcher took on the National Union of Mineworkers?

One lives in hope, and that hope certainly keeps one joyful (Rom 12:12).

And Cranmer wishes all his readers and communicants richest blessings on this glorious Whitsun (the significance of which is also no longer taught in the nation's schools, though all children will doubtless be familiar with Eid and Diwali).


Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace
While I agree with most of what you say, I take issue with the attack on teachers themselves. It is true that the NUT and some teachers are as you say. But I do not believe this is the case for the majority. Most, if not all of the younger ones are very different to those who were teaching in the 70s and 80s.

Frankly, teachers are generally compliant. They teach what they are told to teach. They simply follow orders. The 'bite-size' teaching of which you speak is the root of the problem. We teachers are judged by these standards. I, and others fight it, but we are rare. As senior management, I am in the ridiculous position of observing teachers, using Ofsted criteria, and insisting that they make their lessons even more 'bite-size' than they already are, while secretly teaching my own classes in a more traditional way because I believe modern education has got it all wrong. The irony of it all is that bite-size teaching is far more difficult and time-consuming in preparation than more traditional teaching.

Private schools tend to the follow the National Curriculum because people think that it is what is best. It has an official stamp to it. And it isn't just Geography, History and RE that are badly off. ALL of the subjects, and the very nature of teaching and education are at stake here.

We, as teachers, are brainwashed by the upside-down standards of what makes a 'good' teacher and a 'good' school. And the public is completely fooled. Be aware that schools that are considered 'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted are schools that are experts are bite-sizing!

It isn't the teachers, Your Grace. We are victims as much as the children are.

11 May 2008 at 14:09  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

Another breath of fresh air. God bless you Your Grace. "One lives in hope, and that hope certainly keeps one joyful".

11 May 2008 at 16:50  
Anonymous billy said...

I hate to say this but I agree with Miss S.
We are told what to teach and how long we have to teach it in. There is no time available to develop lesons, in any subject, down avenues that the children would lead us to.
NTW, I retire this year.

BTW, I pedalled along Cranmer St., Cambridge yesterday. It isn't much of a street to bear such an eminent name.

11 May 2008 at 18:58  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Billy,

More fitting memorials are to be found in Oxford.

Ms Snuffy,

His Grace is not 'attacking teachers', merely the bite-size ones. Though your position of seniority establishes a certain self-confessed hypocrisy. You give yourself the liberties to teach freely and then deny those very liberties to those beneath you, enforcing a conformation to a narrow interpretation of pedagogy. The greatest teachers, like the greatest preachers, inspire. If teachers were left to inspire instead of being crammed into perfectly-rounded holes, the next generation of children would in turn be inspirational.

It is coincidence that so many (though by no means all) of the most able political leaders and business entrepreneurs were educated privately. It is not a question of elitism or wealth, but of freedom in the curriculum and liberty in pedagogical practice.

11 May 2008 at 20:39  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace
I agree. But our teachers need to know how to perform for Ofsted. Come September, because I know Ofsted will come next year, I will be doing the bite-size nonsense, so that Ofsted is impressed. (You can't just change everything suddenly when inspectors are in the room. Children have to be used to it.) And frankly, I already do to a certain extent. I have to. I don't have the freedom of those who work in the private sector.

As a school, we need a good Ofsted report, or we'll be finished. We are bound by this. But bite-size teachers can still inspire. True, lots of our great leaders were privately educated. But this is because for so much of the time in the state sector, even bite-size teaching isn't going on! Children often just wander.

I'm just saying it isn't the fault of the teachers. They are taught to do this and forced to do this. They aren't behaving in this way because they personally believe this is the best way to teach.

There is the additional problem that behaviour is so bad in the state sector, that without bite-size lessons, there would be no control at all. Because I can control classes, I have the liberty of not doing bite-size. Other teachers would be eaten alive.

This all stems from the concept that if children misbehave, it is the fault of the teacher, not the child. So the teacher makes the lesson more 'entertaining', more 'bite-size', more 'games' etc to get good behaviour from the children.

11 May 2008 at 21:34  
Anonymous Rumbold said...

Your Grace:

Perhaps you could clarify something for me. You criticise the mindset of certain teachers, and your suggested solution is to abolish the national curriculum. This may be a good thing, but it would not change the mindset of those teachers that you regard as misguided.

Maybe a Cromwellian solution is in order? A broad national curriculum, but not a compulsory one.

11 May 2008 at 21:42  
Anonymous The recusant said...

I have looked in earnest Your Grace for the monument to the real Oxford martyrs:

Thomas Belson, executed at Oxford, on 5 July, 1589
George Nichols, executed at Oxford, on 5 July, 1589
Humphrey Prichard, executed at Oxford, on 5 July, 1589
Richard Yaxley, executed at Oxford, on 5 July, 1589
George Napper, executed at Oxford, on 9 November, 1610

But I search in vain. All I can find is a small pile of rocks to three heretical and schismatic Bishops who had been and would have been persecutors again, if they had had their way.

11 May 2008 at 22:05  
Blogger Scott said...

Careful, recusant, or I'll come after you with a lighter - in-door smoking laws or not.

Seriously. You're a twerp.

12 May 2008 at 01:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How our Children are taught to Hate Great Britain

12 May 2008 at 02:28  
Anonymous old bead jiggler said...

I'm sorry your grace but you are very much mistaken...

One would think from reading your article that the National Curriculum was brought in by the NUT against those defenders of liberty, The Conservative and Unionist Party. But as you lick your lips at the prospect of Michael Gove getting rid of the the N.C. like Mrs Thatcher got rid of the coal industry please remember that it was Prime Minister Thatcher that brought the National Curriculum in (was this an act of folly or weakness?). The Government has since directed us teachers in the state sector not only what to teach but when to teach it and how to teach it. If you do not like this level of state interference please blame Mrs Thatcher and not the National Union of Teachers.

12 May 2008 at 05:33  
Anonymous old bead jiggler said...

By the way, your grace, I tried following the link from anonymous at 02:28 and was taken to the website of the BNP.

12 May 2008 at 05:40  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms Old Bead Juggler,

The fact that the National Curriculum was brought in under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher does not make it right, and the fact that the erosion of the teaching of history in schools has been observed by the BNP does not make it wrong.

After all, it rains on the righteous and the unrighteous.

12 May 2008 at 06:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have long thought that the way to maximise good teaching was to take a chance and let teachers with a passion for a subject - whether it be Wordsworth or Salamanders - to have the opportunity of enthusing their pupils with a love of learning.

A light touch on National Curriculum is needed.

12 May 2008 at 08:21  
Anonymous mickey said...

There should be a campaign to get G A Henty (1832 - 1902) back on to school reading lists. This man produced over a hundred boys' adventure stories set in different historical times; a great way fot youngsters to learn about their country's heritage. Such titles as:

'At the Point of the Bayonet, A Tale of the Mahratta War'

'The Bravest of the Brave, or, With Peterborough in Spain'

'By England's Aid, The Freeing of the Netherlands, 1585 - 1604'

'By Sheer Pluck, A Tale of the Ashanti War'

'Condemned as a Nihilist, A Story of Escape from Siberia'

And many, many more!!

ps. He still has a following in American Christian fundamentalist circles, apparently.

12 May 2008 at 08:43  
Anonymous billy said...

cranmer said...
Mr Billy,

More fitting memorials are to be found in Oxford.

There are indeed, Your Grace, and it is a fairer city. I was there last year and stood at the very spot where you burned. I prayed. I am a little sad that you do not remember.

12 May 2008 at 19:19  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Old Bead Jiggler and Your Grace,
The NC is not the problem. Rather, it is the content and focus of our current NC which literally destroys our children's ability to think.

But having an NC is a good thing. As a Conservative, Thatcher noticed that teachers were left up to their own devices and that many were teaching nonsense or nothing at all. The NC was created to stop this from happening.

Unfortunately, the NC has now become a tool which ensures that the entire country (bar the private sector) is taught nonsense and nothing at all. I am certain that Thatcher never meant for this to happen. And I'm by no means a fan of Thatcher.

12 May 2008 at 20:30  
Anonymous mr old bead jiggler said...


Let us agree then that apart from the content the National Curriculum is a good thing.

Your Grace

With regards to the BNP, nobody but an insecure bigot could seriously equate encouraging to consider Spanish motives for the Armada with 'teaching children to Hate (why capital 'H'?) their country, could they?

12 May 2008 at 21:04  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Mr Old Bead Jiggler
But the content AND its understanding of what children are meant to DO in classrooms (skills taught) are everything!!

And why is your second comment addressed to His Grace? You mean that for Anonymous. His Grace would never write 'hate' with a capital H!

13 May 2008 at 21:24  

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