A Student of History

June 6, 2007

History should be taught “properly”

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 1:56 pm

If ever there was an issue under the category of “what is history,” this is it.

History should be taught properly in schools as a way of teaching immigrants what it means to be British, David Cameron claimed yesterday. The Tory leader warned that national identity had been deliberately weakened by constant attacks on the nation’s culture.  “You do not earn respect by constantly denigrating and repudiating your own culture,” he said.  He called for history to be taught “properly” in schools in a way that celebrated our positive achievements at home and abroad.  “This does not mean we have to gloss over all the things we are not entirely proud of, but we should at least celebrate the many positive things Britain has achieved both at home and abroad,” he said.

The rest of this Daily Mail article is here, but you get the gist of it.

There are 2 points to be made here, I think, although I am sure others will find more.  First, I think Cameron has a point with regard to academic history, in that so much of it atthe university/research level is mired in negativity, bent on relentlessly pointing out injustices, travesties, brutalities, and in some sense, showing all of the faults of (especially) The West and its institutions.  I think to a large extent this is a result of the holy academic Trinity of race, class, and gender, which serves to encourage students and faculty to delve into topics of negativity and depravity.  That’s what makes so many academics so petty, peevish, humorless, and hyper-sensitive.  This is where we get PC from, the legacy of the modern left.

However, the flip side is an unsatisfactory alternative.  Celebratory history commits its own injustice by leaving out the victims, oftentimes.  This is not to say that we should ignore triumphs and achievements, so long as they are truly that.  But when we get the histories of such things as “colonization” or “world exploration,” we run into trouble when we forget all of the consequences.  So many folks today seem embarrassed about their countries’ histories, and in some cases they should.  But, a middle ground needs to be reached between the dour, morose history being written and preached in ivy covered halls of college campuses, and that which exalts in conquest, or hides the actual results from the readers.

In the case of the Tories, noted above, Cameron seeks history to be taught “in a way that celebrated our positive achievements at home and abroad.”  Can one teach a celebratory history of Britain’s barbarities in Ireland, India, America, Acadia, South Africa…the list could of course go on.

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