The History Curriculum Conundrum

First thing you’ll notice is that’s somethings a bit different around here… It’s not a major change but I considered that as this website is now less about me travelling the world getting up to mischief and more about my perspective on life, the universe and everything I might as well make the slight change. (And I’m still kind of stuck in hell atm… Not my fault… Blame the collapse of society) The address and the content of the sight will remain the same though…

Anyway… Onwards. I’m wondering if any of you have seen this report by some Cambridge professors about history teaching in schools?

Quite frankly they have a point. The history I was taught in school was diabolical. For the first three years of secondary school my history lessons were limited to half the year, to three half terms, whilst the rest was taken up by geography. And what did I learn in those history lessons?  Not a lot. I vaguely remember doing some very basic stuff on the Romans, some really basic stuff on the Medieval period (which if I remember correctly, consisted entirely of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves,) the Tudors, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution… And then three years of Naziism…I seem to recall my GCSE’s were mainly spent having the text book dictated by a joyless fecker with far too much fake tan and a high opinion of himself whilst the class wrote down what he was saying… FROM THE TEXTBOOK! I seem to also recall being made to draw Nazi Propaganda posters.

My A levels were little better in terms of content but thankfully a bit more detailed and much better taught- with Tudor/Stuart Politics, the American Civil Rights Movement, America in the 1920’s and Robert Peel/Chartism. Plus by this point I was also doing archaeology, which added stuff to the list. I went to an independent college to do A Levels, which I think helped a lot, especially as my high school was a 1960’s concrete crap-hole.

It wasn’t until I got to university that I finally had some real choice over what I could learn and there was a lot of British history as well. I went for medieval, mostly, but I could have done modern, early modern or Romans/ Prehistory if I had wanted to. It was also the first time I had the opportunity to learn Welsh history (though I wasn’t allowed, in the end, due to the course I was on and having to take another compulsory module.)In the end I did ok… Although one bad essay on Marxism dragged me down a degree level in the end. (O.7% off the next classification… Another few marks would have done it!)

So yes… Based on my own experiences I think those Cambridge professors are right. Things need to change as this bad history teaching has been going on now for at least a decade. In the article they talk about exams and how a lot of it is incoherent and hardly based on the subject at all, it’s much more skill based. Whilst historical skills are important, the stuff you do at GCSE and A Level is hardly rocket science or even close to university standard skills. In fact I would go as far as to say it’s really a poor imitation. I was fortunate in that I was taught well enough at A Level so that I could competently write the essays when I got to university (Marxism essay excluded) but I’ve heard stories of other people getting really low marks because they just didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

By all means, keep the essay based exams as they’re important… But what you need is a more fact based exam, a short answer paper I think they call it. It needs to have quick, single answer questions… but ones that aren’t easy so the students actually have to learn what they’re being taught. How about say asking Where was Llewellyn ein Llew Olaf killed? That’s one a lot of students (particularly English ones) would have to think about (The answer is Climeri, by the by) but if they had no idea of the questions that would come up… If you could ask almost anything… That would work. Or… There is another way.

For a while now I’ve been of the opinion that you can study history as a ‘science’ or at least in a scientific way with diagrams etc. I was going to do it with my dissertation before I was made to change it. They scoffed at ‘processual’ archaeology when it first emerged in the late fifties and I know some people would do the same with scientific history… But if you taught/studied history in a scientific way you could also examine it in a scientific way, say present a diagram on the reformation or whenever and ask what it means.

I’ll talk about scientific history another time… But anyway. That’s just my thoughts on the matter of the article.



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