Education Quandary

What should school history lessons cover? Why do children have to study Hitler again and again?
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It's hard not to think that teachers cling to Hitler because they know the horrors of his regime will make even the doziest pupils pay attention. Teachers say no; they are bound by the national curriculum.

At present, school history uses isolated modules to give pupils a taste of different eras and to help them develop critical skills when it comes to historical sources and events. But this approach is not only potentially repetitious, it also leaves children so ignorant of the basic narrative that a third of all teenagers believe that Oliver Cromwell fought at the Battle of Hastings.

This balance needs to be redressed, but with thoughtfulness and care. Tim Collins, the former shadow Secretary of State for Education, was all for a gung-ho history curriculum showing what made our nation great. In fact, he asked the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts to draw one up. But such jingoism does children no good in the long run. American students, served an undiluted diet of "Our Great Nation", come out at the end of it with terrifyingly narrow and naive views about the world.

However, it is equally daft to give pupils no broad sweep through their national history, and changes are now supposedly afoot. Last year, the Government asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to review history teaching, while the latest guidance issued to teachers is that they should put more emphasis on chronology and key dates.

Unfortunately, none of this will happen in time to help your own son, who will just have to grit his teeth and knuckle down to Hitler again.

Readers' advice

This summer, I took my 14-year-old grandson to visit the site of the battle of Marston Moor. I was shocked to find that he did not know there had been an English Civil War, and even more shocked that, when I tried to explain it, he made it clear he did not think that anything that happened centuries ago could have any relevance to his life today. He goes, incidentally, to a very good and expensive public school.

Cheryl Harmsworth, Lincolnshire

One of the most powerful educational experiences my sons had was visiting the World War Two battlefields in France and reading the headstones of boys as young as themselves who had been killed. The Hitler era was a terrible period of modern European history that must never be repeated, and its lessons will always need drumming home. The danger is that if it is taught too much, pupils will turn off and not be interested.

Miriam Clarke, Reading

My children have studied the same things over and over again in history, geography and maths. Geography is the worst. I have lost count of the number of times they have done coastal erosion, or tourism. They say it is a joke in their school that people only choose geography for A-level because they will have done it all before. Why do the people who plan the curriculum allow this to happen? It is surely perfectly possible to devise a curriculum that offers pupils something new every year?

Alison Fairburn, West Sussex

Next quandary

Should I force my daughter to go to nursery? She started this term and loved it at first, but is now refusing to go and making it a struggle for me to get her there. I don't want to make her do things against her will, but have started a part-time job that I will have to drop if she stays at home.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, by 19 September; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.