Friday, February 08, 2008

Lessons of History

It was, perhaps, a tad unfortunate that the publishing of my latest book, Assaulting Britannia, a history of the invasions of the British Isles, should coincide with the news that 55% of British schoolchildren think that Winston Churchill was a mythical figure but that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table were for real.
It's easy to blame the kids as being moronically uninterested in the subject of history as it keeps them away from their computer 'shoot 'em up' games, but the fault lies surely with those that teach history today.
I recall that when I was sent to school in England, the textbooks we were provided with were of mind boggling ennui and, for me, the situation was only retrieved by my having two history masters who not only knew their subject (they were Oxbridge MA's) but who could bring the stodgy matter to life.
There is a wonderful story by Richmal Crompton in the William series, entitled 'William and the Temporary History Master' wherein the master, a Mr. Renie, attempts to rouse William's interest by encouraging him to act out famous events in history. Anyone who has read the William books will realise that this was a recipe for hilarious disaster. I suspect that, if they were published today, the Health and Safety people would be carting the worthy Miss Richmal Crompton off in handcuffs, as the stories deal with such subversive matters as the climbing of trees, use of catapults and, heaven forbid, bows and arrows.
But Mr. Renie was right in principle, just unfortunate that he ran up against William Brown.
There is, as Peter Cook might have said, a lot of it about when it comes to history and a teacher can do little more than scratch the surface. But he could at least make it enjoyable.
The history books used in school are written by worthy academics but few have the wonderful sweep of history and the English language of a (no doubt mythical) Winston Churchill in his 'A History of the English Speaking Peoples.' It may not be academically pleasing, slightly prejudiced but undeniably readable and would make a great introduction to the subject were it available in the classroom.
On the subject of mythical characters, isn't it a pity that Tony Blair wasn't amongst them! If the old adage of George Santayana that 'those who ignore the lessons of history find themselves doomed to perish by them' is true, Britain is in for a pretty rocky future.


Post a Comment

<< Home