Overhauling the way history is taught in England

Dec 2011
1,013
Hertfordshire
#1
As a history tutor, I'm a bit concerned about the way history is taught in England. It seems a bit all over the place...students at school learn about the Tudors, then jump to 1066, then on to Florence Nightingale, then back to the Tudors, and there's a lack of continuity there. That was the way history was taught in the West Indies before independence, and understandably it was of little relevance to those in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. So, when these four countries became independent in the 1960s, historians at the University of the West Indies, including Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Roy Augier, completely revamped the curriculum, and made it more relevant to students in the West Indies. I went to school in Jamaica in the 1970s, and I read history books written by these two men, and learnt a curriculum that basically followed these lines:

First form - the first "People Who Came", the Tainos and the Caribs, the Aztecs and the Incas.

Second form - the Europeans who came, Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, Oliver Cromwell, Penn and Venables, Henry Morgan, etc.

Third form - the black people who came, sugar and slavery, how important this was in making Britain great, how the money made from this was ploughed into the industrial revolution, which eventually made sugar and slavery irrelevant.

That was the core, and the rest of what we would learn would build upon this base. I think the way history is taught in the UK lacks a similar base. I believe that the history curriculum in the UK should also be overhauled, identifying the areas that were important to the development of the country, and focussing on them. If I was ever appointed as the new Michael Gove, this is how I would revamp the UK history curriculum:

1) 1066 - but this would have to have as one of its main planks the establishment of the class system. The Normans implemented the class system to keep the Saxons in their place. This way of teaching 1066 would make it immediately appear relevant to the students, because the class system is very much alive and kicking in England today.

2) The Black Death - simply because the massive decline in the population meant the end of serfdom. Serfs could now demand money to work on the land, since there were less of them to go around. This led to the rise of the middle class in England. The highlight of this period in history was Wat Tyler's Peasant Revolt, when the nobles tried to put the serfs back into serfdom.

3) The Tudors - mainly because that's when England became Protestant, and was no longer tied to the Catholic Papacy. This adoption of the Church of England had a significant economic impact on England's development.

4) The English Civil War - much more important than Magna Carta, but this period would also look at it. The Magna Carta was just a document that allowed a group of barons to get more power, and keep the serfs in servitude. It just replaced the tyranny of a king with the tyranny of a group of barons. The English Civil War is more important, because it heralded the rise of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, and spelt the end of the domination of kings. Charles I was the last king to wield absolute power. Every king after him had to work with, and then work for, the House of Commons.

5) The British Empire in the Caribbean - In the 17th century, England was just one of several strong European countries, including France, Spain, Portugal, the Dutch, Venice, Genoa, etc. However, by the 18th century, England - now Britain - was the most powerful country in the world, and that was primarily due to sugar and slavery from the Caribbean, specifically Barbados and Jamaica. I believe English kids should be taught that in the schools.

6) The Industrial Revolution - The wealth generated from sugar and slavery was channelled into the Industrial Revolution, and that changed the world as we know it today. The outstanding inventions by James Watt, Richard Arkwright, etc, had a number of impacts, not all good.

7) The empire in India - with the Industrial Revolution, the Indian colonies became important, because of cotton, etc. Slavery could now be abolished, because sugar was no longer important. The Industrial Revolution meant that the cotton could now be mass-produced, and the Indian colonies produced a lot of it, which could then be used for export.

8) Adult suffrage - this is where we could chart Britain's slow movement towards full adult suffrage. While France had full male adult suffrage in 1792, 1848 and again in 1871, it took Britain as long as 1918 before all men were granted the vote. The female suffragette movement should be studied here as well.

9) The causes of the First World War, and the Second World War.

This is how I would revamp the history curriculum is schools, just to provide a base, from which teachers could then build and expand....
 

Sindane

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,605
Europe
#3
As a history tutor, I'm a bit concerned about the way history is taught in England. It seems a bit all over the place...students at school learn about the Tudors, then jump to 1066, then on to Florence Nightingale, then back to the Tudors, and there's a lack of continuity there. That was the way history was taught in the West Indies before independence, and understandably it was of little relevance to those in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. So, when these four countries became independent in the 1960s, historians at the University of the West Indies, including Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Roy Augier, completely revamped the curriculum, and made it more relevant to students in the West Indies. I went to school in Jamaica in the 1970s, and I read history books written by these two men, and learnt a curriculum that basically followed these lines:

First form - the first "People Who Came", the Tainos and the Caribs, the Aztecs and the Incas.

Second form - the Europeans who came, Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, Oliver Cromwell, Penn and Venables, Henry Morgan, etc.

Third form - the black people who came, sugar and slavery, how important this was in making Britain great, how the money made from this was ploughed into the industrial revolution, which eventually made sugar and slavery irrelevant.

That was the core, and the rest of what we would learn would build upon this base. I think the way history is taught in the UK lacks a similar base. I believe that the history curriculum in the UK should also be overhauled, identifying the areas that were important to the development of the country, and focussing on them. If I was ever appointed as the new Michael Gove, this is how I would revamp the UK history curriculum:

1) 1066 - but this would have to have as one of its main planks the establishment of the class system. The Normans implemented the class system to keep the Saxons in their place. This way of teaching 1066 would make it immediately appear relevant to the students, because the class system is very much alive and kicking in England today.

2) The Black Death - simply because the massive decline in the population meant the end of serfdom. Serfs could now demand money to work on the land, since there were less of them to go around. This led to the rise of the middle class in England. The highlight of this period in history was Wat Tyler's Peasant Revolt, when the nobles tried to put the serfs back into serfdom.

3) The Tudors - mainly because that's when England became Protestant, and was no longer tied to the Catholic Papacy. This adoption of the Church of England had a significant economic impact on England's development.

4) The English Civil War - much more important than Magna Carta, but this period would also look at it. The Magna Carta was just a document that allowed a group of barons to get more power, and keep the serfs in servitude. It just replaced the tyranny of a king with the tyranny of a group of barons. The English Civil War is more important, because it heralded the rise of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, and spelt the end of the domination of kings. Charles I was the last king to wield absolute power. Every king after him had to work with, and then work for, the House of Commons.

5) The British Empire in the Caribbean - In the 17th century, England was just one of several strong European countries, including France, Spain, Portugal, the Dutch, Venice, Genoa, etc. However, by the 18th century, England - now Britain - was the most powerful country in the world, and that was primarily due to sugar and slavery from the Caribbean, specifically Barbados and Jamaica. I believe English kids should be taught that in the schools.

6) The Industrial Revolution - The wealth generated from sugar and slavery was channelled into the Industrial Revolution, and that changed the world as we know it today. The outstanding inventions by James Watt, Richard Arkwright, etc, had a number of impacts, not all good.

7) The empire in India - with the Industrial Revolution, the Indian colonies became important, because of cotton, etc. Slavery could now be abolished, because sugar was no longer important. The Industrial Revolution meant that the cotton could now be mass-produced, and the Indian colonies produced a lot of it, which could then be used for export.

8) Adult suffrage - this is where we could chart Britain's slow movement towards full adult suffrage. While France had full male adult suffrage in 1792, 1848 and again in 1871, it took Britain as long as 1918 before all men were granted the vote. The female suffragette movement should be studied here as well.

9) The causes of the First World War, and the Second World War.

This is how I would revamp the history curriculum is schools, just to provide a base, from which teachers could then build and expand....

I really enjoy your posts and often agree with you but I'm afraid I disagree with some of your points and what you want to teach "English kids" about the Industrial Revolution. You seem to be suggesting that the "primary" wealth created was from the colonies. This is not true.

You make no mention, or not much, of the working class in Britain (90% of its population) or their condition during the period. Child labour, compared to slavery at the time, and terrible living conditions, the labour movement's and the rise of the trade unions, the radicals and reformers. For example, the corresponding societies , the luddites, agricultural machine breakers, peterloo, the factory acts , the chartists etc
Agricultural labourers, the coal industry, industrial textile mills (especially wool and cotton, raw cotton was imported from the USA and not "India"), steel industry, metal working, small wares and so on. These were the major industries.

Yes of course slavery and Empire should be taught in UK schools but the topics I mention above should be taught in UK schools first and be taught the most for the IR period.
 

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