Historian calls for evidence, not scaremongering, to inform how subject is taught. Matthew Reisz writes
One of Britain’s leading historians has called for “serious evidence-based policymaking about history teaching in schools” and an end to a debate characterised by “too much talk of crisis, too much irresponsible scaremongering, too much polarisation of views”.
Sir David Cannadine, Dodge professor of history at Princeton University, has recently carried out a major research project with Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, research fellows at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research.
The results are now published in a book released last week, The Right Kind of History: Teaching the Past in Twentieth-Century England.
“We have looked at huge amounts of official material, directives from Whitehall going back to the 1900s, and created our own oral history archive of pupils and teachers,” Sir David said. “Much of the discussion is very polarised – by academics, by politicians, by journalists looking for a good story.”
Debates on knowledge versus skills, elite versus popular history, and whether “we want a cheerleading story of national greatness or something more nuanced”, have been around for decades and are unlikely to be sorted out any time soon, he argued. Yet in the classroom, the researchers discovered, “these polarised issues aren’t like that”.
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