The University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University and host of the BBC documentary series A History of Britain promised to set a bomb under the Education Secretary’s plans for teaching history in our schools and he did just that.
The Telegraph’s Martin Chilton foreshadowed the the proceeding but asking the multitude entering the tent if “this was the queue for hating Michael Gove”. It was described by Benedict Brogan live blogging for the Telegraph as “a blistering call to arms to Britain’s history teachers”.
Schama believes that there is simply too much in the Gove curriculum to allow for inquisitive young minds to become stimulated and ask the questions that teaching should inspire. The fundamental problems with infrastucture the hours required and the lack of specialist teachers are not being addressed. The new national curriculum for history is he says “‘1066 and All That without the jokes”. In a sound-bite laden discourse he describe Gove’s vision for learning as “Gradgrindian” and “pedantic and utopian with a garnishing of tokenism”. Schama invoked Heroditus, the father of history, who believed that at its core lies a fascination with other cultures not a desire for self-congratulation.
Some say that Gove has a eye on the top job as the whispering grows around the solidity of Cameron’s tenure but he may do well to look his current one and his relationship with the teaching profession. History as Schama says should be “honest, tough-minded and should keep the powerful awake at night”.
From the happy position of Retirement (from teaching History KS3 amongst other things) I have been following the development of the History National Curriculum ever since its dramatic conception at the Hay Festival a couple of years ago, with growing horror. Even though it’s now several months since the baby’s long-awaited birth, I’m still counting its fingers and toes – and it’s got far too many. Today, I discovered something even more shocking: it’s not in chronological order.
On November 9 2010, just after he had been appointed ‘History Tsar’ by Michael Gove, Simon Schama wrote in The Guardian under the heading of ‘What every child should learn’: ‘The Indian moment: How was it that a country throwing its weight around the world’s oceans got kicked out of most of America but in two generations came to rule an immense part of the subcontinent? Any class would want to know about the cunning-crazed Robert Clive; to look again at Siraj ud Daula and the tragic ruin that Warren Hastings became, not to mention stories of Brits who defied the race and culture barrier by wearing Indian dress, speaking Indian languages; illicitly marrying Indian princesses’.
However by last week he seemed to have changed his mind. According to Hannah Furness (Telegraph, May 30) he said that: ‘the “insulting, offensive, imperviousness of what it takes to unite together the history of the glorious heritage of Britain” could be demonstrated by the inclusion of Clive of India, who established the supremacy of the East India Company in 18th-century Bengal. Calling him a “sociopathic, corrupt thug”, who made “our most dodgy bankers look like a combination of Mary Poppins and Jesus Christ”, Prof Schama said the topic would not help ethnic minority children understand their own place in the world’.
Which piece of advice from Simon Schama should Mr Gove be taking? I hardly think it is right for Simon Schama to criticise Michael Gove for taking his former piece of advice, albeit given in the public arena, and including it in the draft curriculum. Also, does the inclusion of a name imply a celebration of what he did?