Britain’s relationship with history is “not fit for purpose”, according to leading historian David Olusoga. He argues that generations of pupils have been routinely brainwashed by teachers determined to ignore Britain’s ignoble past and exclusively focus on the virtuous episodes in our national story. This, of course, is an inaccurate characterisation.
However, I fear that similar sentiments are behind the recent finding that eight in 10 secondary schools are changing their history lessons to focus more on diversity and ‘social justice’.
This would entail, inter alia, devoting more time to the study of black historical experiences, the Islamic and Mughal empires and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some believe, however, such as former schools minister Nick Gibb and Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, that such an approach unavoidably reduces the amount of time spent on British history.
But should they be concerned about a teacher-led push to raise awareness of – and give agency to – minority groups and their contributions to British and global history?
Well, as a history teacher at a state secondary school, my reflexive response has to be no, they shouldn’t be concerned, as long as pupils are taught within the wider context of our shared island story. Indeed, learning about waves of migration to Britain, black Tudors, the contributions of African-Caribbean and Asian soldiers to the global and colonial wars of the 20th century, and the intractable and ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, complements the existing curriculum by introducing new perspectives that enrich and deepen understanding.
Moreover, any addition that challenges the puerile non-sequitur that the British empire was uniquely evil by framing it within the context of other imperial hegemons, notably the Islamic and Mughal empires, has to be a good thing.