Chalk Talk: How to make those history lessons go with a bang

Richard Garner
Wednesday 06 March 2013 20:00

History, it seems, is a subject where everyone has a view as to how it should be taught in schools – and they all differ.

That, probably, is why Education Secretary Michael Gove is getting so much stick from eminent historians over the proposals outlined in his revamp of the national curriculum.

There's too much concentration on a "little England" approach to history, to the neglect of what has happened abroad, they say.

Now a new approach is argued by the author of a history of the Royal Family, David Maislish, called Assassination, which he describes as "the Royal Family's 1,000-year curse".

He says it is a little-known fact that each and every one of our monarchs, from King Canute to the current Queen Elizabeth, have been the subjects of assassination attempts and that – if one adopted a "history is mystery" approach to the subject – it would liven it up no end.

I have some sympathy for his view – you could teach it chronologically as Mr Gove wants. But why limit it to the Royal Family?

I have long believed it is a scandalously little-known fact that a British Prime Minister was assassinated in the House of Commons in 1812. I even wrote a (sadly never aired) TV script about it in my younger days.

Everyone knows – especially following the release of the new film – that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated when he was president of the United States in the 1860s.

However, few people remember Spencer Perceval was murdered when he was British Prime Minister. Fewer still know the assassin was John Bellingham, a trader who had been bankrupted after being imprisoned in Russia.

He sought redress from the Government and was told: "You may do your worst, Mr Bellingham, but you will get not a penny from us!" He did.

In all seriousness, it's probably not the best way to get pupils to understand our historic past – but it would liven up a few lessons if teachers could digress to present vignettes like these to their pupils from time to time.

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