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Alan Bennett and History Teaching

John Simkin

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Interesting article in today's Guardian by John Crace about Alan Bennett's views on teaching history.


It includes the following passage:

"I chose to set the action in the early 80s," says the playwright, Alan Bennett, "because it was the last time that students stayed behind for an extra term after A-levels to sit the Oxbridge entrance. This allowed the play a dramatic focus, but I would certainly hope that it has some relevance to today." At its heart is the battle between an old style of teaching (embodied by Hector), where learning is important for its own sake, and a modern, soundbite approach (personified by the much younger Irwin), where everything is reduced to gobbets of relevant information, touched up with a healthy dose of counterfactual contrarianism.

Speaking to Education Guardian at an event for National Schools Film Week, Bennett happily admits that Hector and Irwin are largely symbolic as teachers. "I don't think for a moment either of them exists now, or necessarily ever did," he says. "I heard Jonathan Ross complaining recently that my portrayal of childhood in the 1980s was nothing like his and I thought: thank God for that.

"I certainly never had a teacher like either Hector or Irwin myself when I was at Leeds Modern school; if anything, my teachers were like Mrs Lintott, trading in 'facts, facts, facts'. But I do believe they represent important divisions within educational thinking, and we have moved to a more superficial system, where getting the gist of something is more important than understanding it properly."

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