Tag Archives: Gove

The political battle over WW1 misses the ‘c word’ – colonialism

In recent days a political battle has broken out over the teaching of World War 1 in British schools. This battle is, by definition, political and misses the more important point: we need to be teaching our children a history that goes beyond the ‘we fight bad guys and win’ narrative. Britain has some stains on its history and we have to make sure our kids know about them.

Writing in today’s Telegraph Boris Johnson hits out at Labour’s Education spokesman, Tristram Hunt, saying that Hunt is “guilty of talking total twaddle” for “his mushy-minded blether about ‘multiple histories’”.

This all come as backlash to Labour’s attack on Michael Gove’s “crass” comments that attacked “left-wing and unpatriotic” understandings of what caused WW1. The party-political rhetoric goes on and on…and I won’t bore you with more of it here. If you like, you can read Gove’s original Daily Mail article here, and Hunt’s Observer response article here.

This whole argument between Labour and Conservatives falls into insignificance when you consider that they both have failed to reform the teaching of history in our schools that still so overwhelmingly misses out so much of Britain’s (let alone the rest of the world’s) history.

Take my (now rather outdated) personal experience of school as a case in point. I took history up to my A-levels and then studied history modules during both my BSc and my MA. By the time I left university I had studied different elements of Nazism and WW2 on at least 5 separate occasions. WW1, and particularly the causes of WW1, were covered on at least three separate occasions.

A sign of a good education? Possibly, were it not for the gaping holes in my education that failed to enable me to put any of this into context. One word was significantly and consistently missing from my education – colonialism.

It took me until the age of 22 before I started reading, of my own accord, about the rest of Britain’s track record outside of the two world wars.

The only thread I can spot between what I didn’t learn at school is that it paints my home country in a bad light. Although colonialism is an obvious case in point for this, there are other notable gaps such as the UK’s response to post independent Ireland.

So my rhetorical question is this: who decided not mention the atrocities of British colonialism in our classrooms? Who decided, and perhaps more importantly continues to decide, that the 26,000 women and children who died in British concentration camps during the Boer War are worthy of only a passing mention in our schools? Who has chosen to edit our history of colonial suppression in Kenya that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths to be about mutiny and uprisings not political oppression?

I will tell you who…the man! No, not Gove but the man. As much as we would like to blame this all on Gove and his merry band of revisionists we have to be honest with ourselves. My lifetime has been defined by years and years of establishment thinking that has failed to face up to its own atrocities.

Over the last few days politicians, both red and blue, have spent their time arguing an important argument – how do we teach, interpret and understand our history. This debate about how to represent or understand an event can only take place though if you’re teaching the event in the first place.

It’s time we start teaching our kids about the c-word – colonialism.


Filed under History, Politics

A response to Richard Dawkins and Michael Gove, can we also have a Koran in every school?

Someone has once again let Richard Dawkins lose in the Guardian. When will we learn?

In his latest attack on The Bible (and in turn Christianity), Dawkins has managed to miss the pertinent point when it comes to The Bible, religion and society. In an effort to show support for placing a copy of the King James Bible into every school, Dawkins inevitably looks to the place he seeks comfort, in the secular art of literature, rather than the place where The Bible draws its significance – the spiritual.

I would love to know why Dawkins considers literature to be more important in schooling than the fact that The Bible is one the very foundations of modern spirituality. Whether Dawkins likes it or not, spirituality is pretty important in determining how we live our lives.

Dawkins (I feel rather blandly) points out that The Bible is the source of much of modern language that secularists use without thinking, “the salt of the earth; go the extra mile; I wash my hands of it; filthy lucre; through a glass darkly; wolf in sheep’s clothing” etc etc. Very nice, very true but so what? Dawkins argument’s miss the point of why people read The Bible.

The same linguistic arguments can be said of bland, uncultured, secularism. “Back to square one” for example originates from BBC radio commentators using a grid of a football pitch split into six squares to help the listener visualise the football match. As such when the ball was hoofed down the field and the build up play would start again the commentator would say “back to square one”. Interesting, but I would suggest not a reason to have a copy of an old radio times in every school.

People read the bible because they believe it to be holy. In the eyes of Jews and Christians The Bible represents a collection of primary religious texts that is central to their very being. This has resulted in the range of three to six billion copies being sold worldwide. It has also resulted in it becoming one of the most powerful tools in shaping both the secular and religious modern world. To understand me, you and every other person floating around on this mass of atoms we call Earth we need to hold an understanding of this text. Not because of the metaphors, the imagery or the prose but because it provides the very foundations on which people (rightly or wrongly) build their lives.

Christians (a demographic that I feel most comfortable talking about despite not being one) do not pick up the bible because they either agree or disagree with The Bible but because it is a central tenant of their faith. As my colleague commented to me “it is how I know what God is”. It goes beyond the realms of rationality, of culture or anything comprehensible to me or you. It is, for some, the very basis for life. How it is then interpreted and understood provides the cornerstone for millions, potentially billions of people’s lives around the world. For me, this is a pretty strong argument for why we should learn about. This argument only grows in strength as the UK increasingly moves away from organised religion in a world where Christianity is globally growing.

I will finish however in support of one of Dawkins arguments, his assertion that we have to break down the secular myth that The Bible represents a good ‘moral guide’. As Dawkins rightly points out there are a plethora example of quotes from the bible that could be used to rub my secular morality up the wrong way. Whilst a lot of these can be explained away with a bit of context there are some things that even the most blinkered of devotee would be doing well to argue away. Think about old testament war crimes, genocides and murder.

The Bible isn’t going anywhere, and our kids need to learn about what are in those dusty pages. This for me, provides a compelling reason to why it should be taught in every school (practical note to Gove though…teachers may need more than one if they are to be used as an effective teaching tool).

All of these arguments however could be equally applied to any other holy book. To understand the thousands of Muslims in the UK and the millions worldwide we have to understand the importance of the Koran in their lives for example. It is not, just pretty prose but the basis of their spirituality.  I wonder if Gove will be pushing a Koran onto every school in the UK? If not, why not?

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