A history teacher's appraisal of Michael Gove's approach to the teaching of history

The Education Secretary's ability to brush aside the past work of so many is worrying as well as sad

Related Topics

Praise be to Gove for never failing to give teachers something to get angry about. As some may have noticed, the Education Secretary has this time chosen for his target ‘left-wing’ historians, Blackadder and anyone in between who has, in his words, ‘misrepresented’ World War One.

What Mr Gove had to say was simple, and oh-so-familiar. Misguided lefties attack all that is true and good about British History, propagating a fallacy of the futility of Britain's action in World War One, when what really happened was we gave the Bosh a good kicking in the name of freedom and democracy. And left-leaning academics, says Gove, are all too happy to 'feed myths' that the war was little more than a 'misbegotten shambles'.

Problematically, the Education Secretary's argument  is as much guided by ideology and pre-conceived, politically enthused, conjecture as those he seeks to challenge.

Indeed, although the title of Gove's article - Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes? -suggests he seeks to resurrect British pride from the scrap-heap  of history, the real issue with the Education Secretary's ideas are that this ‘honour’ stemmed from the fact that Britain entered the war to protect all that was right and good in the world from the ‘social Darwinist’ and ‘aggressively expansionist’ Germans.

That the nuances of the outbreak of World War One remain a topic of endless historical debate hardly needs mentioning.  Yet Gove’s ability to simply brush aside the work of so many whilst claiming that the war was fought in order to safeguard ‘the freedom to draw our own conclusions’ is worrying. Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of the Education Secretary habitual proneness to jumping into arguments that are considerably out of his depth.

Consider first his proposals for the reform of the History curriculum: a rewritten, brand-spanking new proposal designed to tell the ‘island History’ of Britain which in its advertisement promised so much. To say what it ultimately delivered was disappointing is an understatement. The draft curriculum caused an outrage amongst the teaching profession, was rejected by its own advisors and denounced by professional Historians and associations. Ultimately, it resulted in an embarrassing government U-turn. The words ‘misbegotten shambles’ spring to mind.

British First World War fundraising poster (1915) British First World War fundraising poster (1915)  

What most took issue with was the outdated image of Britain and her place in the world that the curriculum sought to propagate. In place of a balanced multicultural curriculum, students would learn about Victorian heroes, ‘Britain and her Empire’ and the successes of Parliament in all her glory.  The nakedness of political directive was preposterous, not simply because Gove asked for and then ignored the advice of historians, but because the curriculum seemed to be designed with the intent of giving students no knowledge of the world outside of Britain’s impact upon it, but instead a one-sided recommendation of the ‘glorious’ History of British parliament.

As a historian himself, Gove should have known better than to politically prescribe education. Yet, despite the debacle and subsequent ‘no-confidence’ votes against Gove by teachers (twice) and headteachers it appears the Education Secretary still hasn't learnt the proverbial lesson. 

His assertion that Britain entered the war in order to defend democracy from ‘social-Darwinism’ and ‘aggressive expansionism’ smacks of a wilful ignorance of the role played by British politicians and British troops in the name of the British Empire and ‘Civilization’ in the years preceding the war.

Two soldiers on the concourse at Victoria station, London, about to leave for the front line. Two soldiers on the concourse at Victoria station, London, about to leave for the front line.

Perhaps this is hardly surprising when the unpopularity and easily ridiculed nature of Gove’s recent track record are considered in light of an impending countdown to 2015’s election and Labour’s current lead in the polls; if ‘lefties’ have belittled Douglas Haig, you have to wonder what they will write of Gove after another year and a half in office.

In the meantime, if Gove were to visit history classrooms he would find Year 9 students sensibly debating the origins of the war, taking in to account the roles played by all of the major European powers.  He would also find them critically assessing Haig’s reputation in the light of both traditional and revisionist views alongside, more importantly, evidence.

That, Mr Gove, is exercising the ‘freedom to draw our own conclusions’.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living