History, along with some other subjects like foreign languages, appears to be on the decline around the world. Will our continued ignorance of historical events and different cultures and languages increase the likelihood of wars?
Story by Graeme Paton from The Telegraph, October 14, 2010:
Dr Sean Lang, senior lecturer in history at Anglia Ruskin University, criticised the “absolutely ludicrous” system in Britain that requires pupils to choose subject options half-way through secondary education.
He said many children were pushed into abandoning vital components of the curriculum for spurious reasons rarely linked to the academic discipline.
Pupils are often required to choose between history and geography at GCSE level, it was disclosed.
In a speech to a conference staged by Cambridge Assessment, the exam board, he called for history to remain as a compulsory subject throughout secondary school.
A broad baccalaureate of important disciplines, including history, should be taken by all students to the age of 16, he said.
“I argue for history but I don’t argue against other subjects,” he said. “Why should they be in competition with each other? How crazy is that?
“Pupils choose for trivial reasons; they like the teacher this year, they don’t want to get that teacher next year and they hear from their elder siblings that it was too hard and another subject was easier. All sorts of trivial reasons – nothing whatever to do with the intrinsic worth of the subject.
“They are too young to make those decisions and, above all, the consequences of those decisions last for years.”
Dr Lang, who leads the Better History campaign group, added: “Why does this system not get challenged? Well, we are challenging it. We believe the options system is outmoded and indeed it is possibly harmful and should go.”
Dr Lang told how some history teachers were forced to focus on “juicy topics” – such as Jack the Ripper – just before pupils took their options to convince them to choose the subject.
“I have even known one head of history complain that her geography rival was wearing short skirts to attract attention,” he said.
The comments come a week after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, announced a major review of the history curriculum in an attempt to revive interest in Britain’s “island story”.
The historian Simon Schama has been named as the Government’s new “history tsar” to lead the drive.
According to figures, the number of children studying history to a decent standard dropped under Labour. Some 35 per cent of pupils took the subject at GCSE level in 1997 compared with 32 per cent last year, it was disclosed.
Dr Lang said that many schools forced less academic children to drop history at the age of 14 in favour of vocational qualifications which are worth more points in league tables.
He criticised the “hostility of heads and senior management teams who activity, as we have seen, prevent many pupils from taking it”.