The government’s exam regulator declares that the view of history taught by schools is too narrow, with a bias towards the Tudors, and Adolf Hitler. Accompanying these reports comes the inevitable cry from commentators that our children are not being taught properly. Our schools are merely day-centres for the ignorant. We hear that QCA is now developing modules for the DfES that give pupils a broader range.
The array of knowledge we have to cram into the heads of our innocent secondary-school children is vast, and inconveniences such as puberty distract pupils from the task of absorbing even a fraction of it. The problem with human knowledge is that there is an awful lot of it. Many historical facts are disputed, and there are several possible interpretations of those facts we can agree on. Everyone will leave school ignorant of some of the key figures and events that have shaped our world, and there is nothing we can do to change this.
We also hear that children in Key Stage 2 spend vast parts of their time training for tests. This is the most annoying aspect of the report. It is as if exams are an end in themselves, and not a means to an end. Indeed, for an over-worked teacher who is threatened with another Offsted inspect, good test scores for her pupils could be the only thing that matters!
Children should be trained to be philosophers. Philo and sophos, a Love of Knowledge. Perhaps it is not important what facts they know, just that they take an interest in the world around them. They will then seek out knowledge for themselves, naturally. I am paradoxically both ashamed and proud that there exist books on my university reading list that I did not read until after I graduated. Whenever I encounter a word or reference I do not recognise, I look it up and plug the gap. With increased access to the internet, this gets easier to do every day. I find the power of Wikipedia to be breath-taking, and surfing through to random articles is a secret, solitary pleasure. Only last week I found myself immersed in an explanation of the Reimann Hypothesis and its place in the history of mathematics. I only read the biography of Field Marshall Karl Dönitz a few days ago, and I have no recollection of how I came to surf to those pages.