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Derek McMillan

Tories name the 12 who shaped our nation.

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The Conservative education spokesman, David Willetts has announced his “nation building” History curriculum. In place of the study of history, he prefers the narrative approach (telling children little stories) about 12 chosen great people.

The list has 11 white men, three of them wearing crowns, and one white woman. It seems the black and ethnic minorities in the UK made no contribution to its history if we believe the Conservative party; and men made 11 times as great a contribution as women.

Some of the choices – based on the contribution to creation of British institutions and structures, are surprising. The inclusion of Oliver Cromwell probably has Prince Charles feeling his collar – one of Cromwell’s “memorable structures” was the scaffold on which King Charles was executed.

Although there are three kings, King Henry 8th is excluded. It is unusual for the Conservative Party to assert that the Church of England is not a significant institution.

Other omissions are less surprising. The Tolpuddle Martyrs are not there – trade unions are an institution the Conservative Party would sooner forget about.

And the whole concept is cockeyed. History is not made by individuals “great” or otherwise. Nye Bevan did not single-handedly create the NHS any more than Millicent Fawcett single-handedly brought about votes for women and neither of them was stupid enough to believe they did.

It is convenient to reduce history to stories about individuals – and then pick and choose which individuals constitute “history” but the events which really shaped these islands, like the Chartist movement, involved the participation of the working class and the poor.

History is made by millions. And so is the future. As David Willetts and his merry men will find out.

Derek McMillan

The list is:

Saint Columba, 521-597 (Christianity in Britain)

Alfred the Great, 849-899 (the Kingdom of England)

Henry II, 1133-1189 (Common law)

Simon de Montfort, 1208-1265 (Parliament)

James IV of Scotland, 1443-1513 (the Kingdom of Scotland)

Thomas Gresham, 1519 -1579 (the stock market)

Oliver Cromwell, 1599 -1658 (the British Army)

Isaac Newton, 1643-1727 (the Royal Society)

Robert Clive, 1725-1774 (the British Empire)

Sir Robert Peel, 1778-1850 (the police)

Millicent Fawcett, 1847-1929 (universal suffrage)

Nye Bevan, 1897-1960 (the National Health Service)

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The Conservative education spokesman, David Willetts has announced his “nation building” History curriculum. In place of the study of history, he prefers the narrative approach (telling children little stories) about 12 chosen great people.

The list has 11 white men, three of them wearing crowns, and one white woman. It seems the black and ethnic minorities in the UK made no contribution to its history if we believe the Conservative party; and men made 11 times as great a contribution as women.

Some of the choices – based on the contribution to creation of British institutions and structures, are surprising. The inclusion of Oliver Cromwell probably has Prince Charles feeling his collar – one of Cromwell’s “memorable structures” was the scaffold on which King Charles was executed.

Although there are three kings, King Henry 8th is excluded. It is unusual for the Conservative Party to assert that the Church of England is not a significant institution.

Other omissions are less surprising. The Tolpuddle Martyrs are not there – trade unions are an institution the Conservative Party would sooner forget about.

And the whole concept is cockeyed. History is not made by individuals “great” or otherwise. Nye Bevan did not single-handedly create the NHS any more than Millicent Fawcett single-handedly brought about votes for women and neither of them was stupid enough to believe they did.

It is convenient to reduce history to stories about individuals – and then pick and choose which individuals constitute “history” but the events which really shaped these islands, like the Chartist movement, involved the participation of the working class and the poor.

History is made by millions. And so is the future. As David Willetts and his merry men will find out.

Derek McMillan

The list is:

Saint Columba, 521-597 (Christianity in Britain)

Alfred the Great, 849-899 (the Kingdom of England)

Henry II, 1133-1189 (Common law)

Simon de Montfort, 1208-1265 (Parliament)

James IV of Scotland, 1443-1513 (the Kingdom of Scotland)

Thomas Gresham, 1519 -1579 (the stock market)

Oliver Cromwell, 1599 -1658 (the British Army)

Isaac Newton, 1643-1727 (the Royal Society)

Robert Clive, 1725-1774 (the British Empire)

Sir Robert Peel, 1778-1850 (the police)

Millicent Fawcett, 1847-1929 (universal suffrage)

Nye Bevan, 1897-1960 (the National Health Service)

Where did you get this information from? Is this really a serious proposal?

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Had he been around in the 21st Century the young Robert Clive would have collected an ASBO. Is this some cunning scheme by the Conservative Party to give encouragement to disaffected youth?

It was the superiority of institutions such as the company structure of the British East India Company over feudal institutions and the political chaos that existed in 18th Century India that resulted in the British conquest of Bengal. Had Clive been killed at the Battle of Plassey the next man in the military or political structure would have taken over. What the EIC proceeded to do with Bengal, drain wealth and introduce starvation for example, is not I would have thought part of British history we should be particularly proud of. So what lessons about our island race are we planning to teach through looking at Clive?

By contrast ‘Teaching History’ this month has some very tightly argued articles on the subject of ‘significance in History’, which I needed a week, and a dictionary, to get through.

Unfortunately the mantra ‘British History. British History. British History ….’ seems to carry more weight than the idea that History can teach young people how to think.

I believe we do need to take every opportunity to expose the laughable stupidity of these proposals: many equally silly politically inspired History curriculum ideas are still with us.

It’s a tough business reading the Telegraph, Derek, but somebody has to do it. So thanks for that titbit.

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I have been asked to appear on Radio 5 Live tomorrow night between 11 and midnight, to represent the history teachers who seemingly have 'failed' to teach a 'proper history'. I would be interested in any comments that people post up here. There is a similar debate about this topic on the schoolhistory forum here

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The more I look at their list the odder it is.

They have a token woman, but also a token Irishman, St Columba, token Scot, James IV and token working class type Nye Bevin.

And they haven't included Beeching who made the railways what they are.

And what a very strange patchwork pupils would make of these scraps if trying to construct any concept of history.

And if they insist that biography is the only way to teach History wouldn't it at least make sense for pupils to have a range of characters to choose from rather than 12 great and good dictated by Tory Central Office?

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Although I'm not a historian, it seems to be a very ignorant list too.

If we're going to take this approach and look at people who wore crowns, where's Henry VII? Perhaps the reminder of the Wars of the Roses and the person who used terror in order to break the power of the aristocrats is a bit too strong for the Tories. It might turn too much attention to the fact that monarchs are usually either people who should have at least got ASBOs, if not been tried for war crimes … or their descendants.

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That list is worrying me. It's the feeling that no-one could possibly take it seriously. Could they? But then that's exactly what we were thinking before National Curriculum History arrived and the government tried, in all seriousness, to ban any mention in the classroom of events that had happened in the last 30 years. So I sent this to David Willett's 'Public Service Challenge':

'As a retired History Teacher I am pleased to see this recognition that History matters. The list of British worthies brings tears to my eyes with its sheer quirkiness. However, I hope this list is not going to be imposed on History teachers, who are highly professional, and as capable of judging what will work with Year 10 tomorrow morning as the distinguished panel. According to OFSTED, History teachers teach their subject more effectively than most other subject teachers. They have to balance many more dimensions than the role of individuals in our great institutions. For example they have to take account of local factors: here in Essex we tend to rate St Cedd rather higher than St Columba, and I have to tell you (because one never gives up being a history teacher) that neither of these gentlemen contributed anything to the parish system. So, please trust history teachers to get on with their teaching and their own professional development without the threat of a prescriptive list hanging over them. '

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So 12 people shaped our nation, over 15 centuries? What happened during the years when none of them were alive - did we just stagnate?

That's taking the great-man theory to a whole new level.

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Michael Gove famously compared what he was hoping to do to the British Education system what the Chinese accomplished in their Cultural Revolution. It's still not quite clear what he thought he meant. This is the latest leak about his plans for History education:

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/367859/Michael-Gove-orders-back-to-basics-in-the-teaching-of-Britain-s-proud-history

There is a certain irony, to say the least, that Gove's well-known dislike of Mary Seacole is to be followed-up by the 'axing' of Florence Nightingale. Quite apart from anything else, where would Michael Gove be without the pie chart?

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The daft sorry, draft, History syllabus is now available: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/h/history%2004-02-13.pdf

(Well, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole seem to have somehow come through, on the advice of Mr Gove's press advisers perhaps.) It is the most boring History syllabus I have ever seen, and certainly the most illiberal and nationalistic. I have a feeling that there might be a world trend towards the teaching of nationalistic history in schools, and I would be interested to hear what is happening in other countries in this respect.

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Just to underline what I wrote above. Sir John Wolfenden once said the thing he most feared that might happen was the disappearance of liberalism. I was quite young when I heard him say this and wondered what he meant. Having studied the document I referred to in my previous post I can now see one way this might happen. What began as almost a silly game about historical heroes is actually serious. For those not used to reading illiberal curriculum documents it is important to understand that this syllabus is prescriptive, and there is barely time just to cover the topics it lists.

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