July 2010
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Niall Ferguson\'s plans for new History curriculum

As you know Ferguson has been hard at work …upsetting history teachers. Apparently, for all those who missed this!, we need to use TV and war games more in order to make history exciting and ( you’d never believe this one…..fun). Hold the front page! Wait. There’s more to come. This TV don thinks that TV will do for history what Jamie Oliver did for school meals. Has he ever read the damning report on what little actual difference dear old Jamie’s railing against Turkey Twizzlers actually made?!

We should of course, be less worried about his half-baked home truths about teaching as by his more serious views on WHAT the pupils should be learning. This is the real danger. We may be in danger of misrepresenting him, but his recent interview with the Guardian sent out some warning signals. “.

Perhaps some good will come of it, but it all seems so Ferguson-centric. He has made a TV series so kids must watch TV. He has collaborated with a US software developer to create a second world war-based video game so this must be a core classroom aid. He made a bit of a name for himself with his counter-factual essay, so guess what : “History is more like a game than it is a novel, because you don’t know, when you’re in it, what the end is going to be.

“You can re-run world war two, you can explore strategy, you can come up with a plausible alternative past.” It’s exciting for young people – my teenage son and his younger brother have been my consultants on this.” He admits, however, that his second child, a daughter, has little interest in war games. So that’s 50% 0f the kids bored for a start!!

Ferguson would also shake up school trips, rejecting visits to stately homes in favour of places where children were central to history. Battlefields, for example. “What, really, do you get out of going to Windsor Castle? Wouldn’t it be better to go and see something where the experience of young people was historically interesting?

“History books make the mistake of teaching about old men, often with a beard. Most of history is made by young people. I’m an old guy by historical standards, at 46. Child soldiers in Africa? There were lots of child soldiers in the Napoleonic wars. It’s all about making history young.”

Finally, let’s look more positively on what Fergie has to say. “Get the big picture, then let’s zoom in – what is it like to be a slave, what was it like to be a slave trader? That is the way to make history live – you constantly try to zoom in, the human face on a story, then I think you connect. Try to recapture past truth, try to reconstruct from the remains that the dead leave behind – that is the true aim of the historian, to make the past experience live again”.

What is so sad of course, it that he seems to have no idea that this is just what is happening, as I write, in every history department across the land!




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