Taking lessons from History

A recent episode of The Moral Maze discussed the planned reforms of the teaching of history in primary schools. The purpose of this excellent show is to discuss the morality of issues.

As often happens when I listen to such things my mind started making connections between what we have as standard practice, what we propose as a solution and what we could also do as an alternative.

The discussion on The Moral Maze was centred on the choice between teaching facts and teaching skills of analysis. If we teach history without facts, we don't actually teach history. We teach how to analyse. Likewise, teaching facts without analysis is to embark on a memory course. There is no problem with either method per se, but there is a problem if we try to do either under the guise of history.

So here is my proposal:

I am re-discovering the joy of folk-stories and fairy tales. The fact that this has been through the superb Folio Society shows the power of books. I will say no more about books than this: If you haven't bought a real book in the last year, please, please remedy this.

However, back to the proposal. Fairy tales and folk stories have always served a purpose far greater than to tell stories. The meaning of the stories, the morality that can be drawn from them, has stood the test of time. I do not think that morality has changed over time. The boy that cried wolf, Hansel and Gretel, etc used to be a big part of pre-school for children. It was a time to understand the world of consequences using a consistent narrative for all generations. There is no need to consider how the development of the story impacted on our own nation. Folk-lore allows us to learn skills of analysis that we can then apply to the study of history.

I am aware that most children are no longer aware of the stories that their parents and grandparents were brought up learning. This is a travesty that has, in my opinion, led to the inability of children to develop a strong moral compass. There is no doubt that the likes of Disney have simultaneously enhanced the knowledge of folk-tales and reduced the moral message that the originals contained. If our adults can start imparting the knowledge of the original stories (in all their gruesome detail!) then we may see primary schools being able to embark on a telling of history that pupils can critically analyse. The earlier we get pupils to embark on the journey of story-telling, the sooner they will be able to understand the narrative of our own global history.