Demands that the Scottish Executive spell out the future of history in the nation's schools

A LEADING academic today demands an urgent statement from the Scottish Executive on the future of history in the nation's schools.

Professor Tom Devine, widely viewed as Scotland's top historian, says suggestions by Peter Peacock, the education minister, that the subject may not be offered as a stand-alone part of the curriculum in the first two years of secondary school are "an educational disgrace".

Mr Peacock has said the curriculum review being carried out could see history being taught as part of other subjects, such as French or modern studies, instead. The minister, who explains the thinking in our Education pages today, said: "It is about being less prescriptive from the centre about the detail of what teachers teach, and providing them with freedom, space and trust to exercise their professional judgment and decide what is most appropriate for their pupils."

But writing in The Scotsman today, Prof Devine says Scottish pupils should be receiving more, not less, history tuition in the classroom.

He says: "If this nonsensical suggestion is ever accepted, the Scottish Parliament may be presiding over the possible destruction of history in Scottish schools. It is now time for the Executive to decide whether they want to promote history's place in our education system or want to hasten its demise for good. At the very least, a formal ministerial statement on an issue so vital to the culture of the nation now and in the future is vitally required."

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Michael Beatty - 11/10/2005

Scottish Executive Education Minister Peter Peacock: "It is about being less prescriptive from the centre about the detail of what teachers teach . . ." What poppycock! What utter gibberish!

The role of the ministers is precisely to prescribe, in broad terms, what material must be presented to students, and what the standards are to ensure that that material is understood and assimilated into the skill set with which students are to be equipped when they pass out of their secondary education. To suggest that the teaching of history, which fundamentally asks the question, "From whence have we come, and how did we get here from there?" can be left to the discretion of the individual schoolteacher, raises the specter of one segment of the future population understanding the foundation of their culture, and another segment, taught by different teachers in other councils, not understanding that foundation.

For that matter, can one reasonably expect to have a competent understanding of their cultural history by learning that history in the context of another discipline? Minister Peacock apparently thinks Scots History can be taught as a block of instruction in French class, which could lead to the following scenario:

Teacher: Right, children, we've studied the verbs 'attaquer' and 'defender.' Now remember, in 1804, Napoleon Buonaparte was poised to 'attaquer' England.


What Scotland (and frankly, the USA) need is more History in the classroom, not less. It's not breathtakingly important to know that Henry VI was crowned in 1429, or that Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485. What is important, and the primary value of teaching History in primary and secondary schools, is that it imparts critical-thinking skills which are vital to success in future.

Cultural pride can be got from other sources - newspapers, political stump speeches, following the football results, etc. But critical thinking (as opposed to political indoctrination, a pernicious problem here in the USA) is frankly the sine qua non of the formation of young minds in elementary and secondary education.

As an aside, I can't help wonder if Minister Peacock is a Tory, since he's so blase about Scottish schools producing graduates equipped for critical thinking.

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