Continuing my increasingly tedious educational theme, David Starkey – author of some of the best books and television programmes on Tudor history you’ll ever read – reckons that history teaching in England is rubbish. He believes that teaching history in fragments, and focusing on the process of historical fact-gathering while failing to clarify how historical facts relate to one another, produces “nothing but elaborately polished mediocrity”.
He doesn’t need me to say this, obviously, but he’s absolutely right. I left school with a GCSE and an A Level in History with the highest grade achievable at the time (I expect it’s now called the “Budweiser SuperSize™ Big Fat Gold Star Who’s the Daddy A Level”), and frankly, all I’d ever really studied was four pointless years of Hitler and Mussolini.
If I recall correctly, they half-heartedly chucked in a bit of Industrial Revolution in my pre-exam years, and Chartism got a mention (which they managed to make sound like a meeting of the WI), but basically I left school knowing everything about Hitler but his inside leg measurement, and very little else.
I complained viciously even at the time, without any effect, but the tragic part was that I was deemed to have done really well.
I have an interest in history, so I’ve carried on reading as much as I possibly can, filling in the canyon-sized gaps in my knowledge. I first learned about the French Revolution, the Tudors, the Victorian period and…well, you name it – in my late 20s. Shamefully, I barely even knew that England had even HAD a Civil War until I was at university.
The point is that, even at my advanced age, I still feel quite sharply the anger and embarrassment of my historical ignorance.
If the state school history syllabus today is even half as bad as it was in the pointlessly trend-conscious dark ages of my schooling, I really hope Starkey keeps complaining. You never know, Hitler could become David Starkey’s very own Turkey Twizzler…