Niall Ferguson: 'Rid our schools of junk history'

Historians in the News

A leading British historian has called for a Jamie Oliver-style campaign to purge schools of what he calls "junk history".

Niall Ferguson, who teaches at Harvard and presented a Channel 4 series on the world's financial history, has launched a polemical attack on the subject's "decline in British schools", arguing that the discipline is badly taught and undervalued. He says standards are at an all-time low in the classroom and the subject should be compulsory at GCSE.

Ferguson makes the comments in an essay to be released this week. It begins: "History matters. Many schoolchildren doubt this. But they are wrong, and they need to be persuaded they are wrong."

He points to the popularity of TV series and books by celebrity historians such as Simon Schama, David Starkey, Peter Snow and Andrew Marr. "History, it might be said, has never been more popular. Yet there is a painful paradox. At the very same time, it has never been less popular in British schools," writes Ferguson....

He argues that there is far too much emphasis on teaching pupils about Nazi Germany (studied by half of those at GCSE and eight out of 10 at A-level) and complains that pupils are asked to choose "a smorgasbord of unrelated topics". The form of selection, he adds, "explains why, when I asked them recently, all three of my children had heard of the Reverend Martin Luther King, but none could tell me anything about Martin Luther."...

Professor Colin Jones, president of the Royal Historical Society, said he applauded some of Ferguson's ideas, such as teaching history in longer, chronological blocks. But Ferguson's language was condescending and the argument ideological, he added.

"To change things we should work with teachers and other bodies and not just dismiss what is going on as 'junk history'. It is demeaning, unpleasant and untrue," said Jones, who warned against Ferguson's emphasis on western ascendancy.

"It is more ideological than he claims and the danger is it will be taught in a way in which the answer is known in advance and it is 'west is best'."...
Read entire article at Guardian (UK)

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Lisa Kazmier - 3/23/2010

Can you compare the British to the TX board?