Yesterday, children, we discovered that Mr Michael Gove was… what? Come on, it’s on your key words board. That’s it, well done – we discovered that he was a prize tit. We looked at his idea, that the incoming Conservative government should actually seize control of the curriculum and itself write the history syllabus for all schools, and what did we do? That’s right, we compared it to the interfering managerialism of Labour.
Who can remember why Mr Gove is being contradictory? That’s right – it’s because the Conservative party often accuses the Labour government of interfering managerialism, and is now proposing to take an interfering and managerialist approach to education itself. Excellent. We’re going to keep that thought at the back of our minds, but for the moment, we’re going to suspend disbelief.
We’re going to pretend that Mr Michael Gove can personally rewrite the history syllabus without revealing himself to be a self-contradictory prize tit, and we’re going to perform some critical appraisal on his ideas for doing it.
So, let’s get out the whiteboard pen and have a look at his proposal for a new British narrative history curriculum.
The people who make up Britain – Celts, Anglo-Saxons.
The Roman Invasion
Liberty and the Magna Carta and Simon de Montfort
War of the Roses
English Civil War
Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights of 1688
Union of Parliaments in 1707
The Growth of Liberty in the early 18th century
Beginnings of industrial revolution
The Struggle for the Vote in the 19th century, including Great Reform Act, Chartists
Queen Victoria and Great Victorian scientists such as Darwin and Faraday
Growth of the mass media and the mass franchise in the Edwardian Age
Great Depression of the 1930s
World War Two, including Churchill’s role
New Elizabethan Age
SS Windrush and the New Britain
Modern history to the present
Right, who wants to kick us off with some critical analysis? Anything at all. Anything missing? Any comments on what’s there? Start wherever you like.
Yes, the fluffy elephant at the front - where are all the elephants? Yes, very good question. Elephants come from Africa and from India, and what do we know about Africa and India in relation to Britain? That’s right, fluffy elephant – much of their territory formed part of our empire. So Mr Gove doesn’t want children to learn about the British Empire. Why might that be, do we think?
Yes, he could be stupid, or?
Yes, he could well be embarrassed, or?
Well, yes, I suppose he could be both embarrassed and stupid, or?
That’s it! I think you’ve hit on it, Startledcod. He has basically drawn his conception of a good history syllabus from that of a prep school circa 1965. Quite right. What else might that explain, do we think?
The fact that he still thinks it’s ok to call the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and 1066 the Dark Ages, yes, very good. Who can tell me a bit about the Dark Ages? What happened in Britain in that period? Give me some themes.
Emergence of warrior kingdoms reflecting our regional and dialectic differences down to the present day, yes.
Unification of England under Alfred, yup.
Foundation of the monasteries, beginnings of English biography and historiography and the 9th-10th century English renaissance, very good.
Ok, what else? What else can you tell me about Michael Gove’s list and how it’s similar to a prep school syllabus circa 1965?
He’s missed out America. Yes, he has, from the discovery and loss of the colonies all the way to Barack Obama. A bit of a glaring omission, and of course naturally follows on from the concept of a “British” narrative.
Nothing about the foundations and history of English law in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, good.
Nothing about European events that have impacted immediately on the history of Britain, such as the French revolution and the militarisation of imperial Germany – yes, very good. Again, it flows from the artificial concern with a “British narrative” doesn’t it. Good, anything else?
Nothing about the history of Catholicism and Protestantism in this country and how we managed to narrowly avoid a bloody religious war unlike much of the rest of the continent.
Nothing about the intertwined history of England and France and the fact that great chunks of them were actually the same kingdom for much of the post-1066 medieval period, yes, and?
Nothing about the impacts of the industrial revolution on agriculture and traditional social patterns in rural Britain, nothing about the Corn Laws and other protectionist, er, Tory policies, nothing about the abolition of slavery, nothing about enclosures, the privatisation of formerly common land to great, er, mostly Tory landowners, nothing about the history of the poor law, the growth of cities and the history of public health. Yes, that’s all very good.
Nothing about the history of ideas in any period and only a highly selective mention of (Victorian) science despite the fact that Britain was one of the world’s first seventeenth-century scientific hotbeds. Yes, any more?
Nothing about the crusades or any other interaction with Islam. Yes, indeed. Very good there from the bitter boy of bile.
A simplistic over-reliance on monarch tick-box teaching and totemic “Alfred burned the cakes” type events which undermines any attempt to teach continuity, pattern repetition or place any period in a broader historiographical context? Hm, that’s quite advanced, I think I’ll have to set you some extra work.
Anything else? Anything else missing?
Ireland, yes. Very good, boy with the, er, beard. Again, bit of an omission since we spent so much time forcibly subduing it, ruling it as foreign oppressors and then withheld corn from it at its time of most dire need with the result that many of its people fled from starvation and ended up being, well, us. Or indeed Americans, for which see above.
The Vikings, yes. They are missing from that first item, aren’t they, as one of the peoples of Britain. Why might that be, do we think?
Because Mr Gove is a southern tosser, now look, I will not have that language in my classroom. In fact, I have an idea he’s actually from Scotland originally. No, there doesn’t seem to be much Scottish history in this history of Britain, does there, except the bits where Scotland gets tied in to England. Ok, I’ll just put “pig-ignorant” instead. What else can you tell me about those first couple of items, by the way? What comes before them chronologically?
We don’t know? Well, that’s not quite true, we know bits about Britain before the Romans, don’t we – through what discipline? Archaeology, that’s right. So what does the period lack, up until the arrival of the Romans? Exactly – a written record. So why has Mr Gove chosen to start his narrative of British history roughly where the written records kick in?
Because he hasn’t the faintest idea about historiographical approaches to understanding written, oral and material cultures on the same terms as each other when the evidence is so very different, and how the whole artificial business of historiography is predetermined by the fact that we are ourselves a written culture. Exactly, very good. Why doesn’t he have the faintest idea about this, and about the interaction between history and archaeology, do you suppose?
Because he’s not a historian, yes, and?
He doesn’t really know anything about historical scholarship post-1950s, yes, and?
He conceives of history as a sort of collectors’ stamp book in which you have to fill in all the little boxes with kings, queens and battles in order to “know” history, yes, very good. Anything else?
If he advocated the same sort of ante-diluvian approach to the teaching of science, there would be uproar? Yes, that’s very good, there probably would.
So what does all this tell us about his whole concept of a “proper narrative of British history”?
It’s a bit shit. Ok, I’ll allow that. Anything else? Yes, girl at the back. You’re a very tall girl, are you sure you should be in this class?
You’re a teacher? Oh, er, well what do you think?
Oh. Perhaps someone should tell Mr Gove.