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The purposes of school history

Quotations which are examples of what might be called ‘traditional’ (or ‘Victorian’) views about the purposes of school history: note that not all of them come from the Victorian Era).

‘’To bring before the children the lives and work of English people who served God in Church and State, to show that they did this by courage, endurance and self-sacrifice, that as a result, the British Empire was founded and extended and that it behoved every child to emulate them.’

J. W. Willis Bund, Education Chairman, Worcester County Council 1908, quoted in Batho, G. ‘From a test of memory to a training for life’, in M. H. Price (ed) (1986) The development of the secondary curriculum: 224.

‘Why cannot we go back to the good old days when we learnt by heart the names of the kings and queens of England, the feats of our warriors and our battles and the glorious deeds of our past?’

John Stokes M.P., Hansard,  1990

‘An educated man must have a certain minimum of general knowledge. Even if he knows very little about science and cannot add or subtract, he must have heard of Mendel and Kepler. Even if he is tone deaf, he must know something about Debussy and Verdi; even if he is a pure sociologist he must be aware of Circe and the Minotaur, of Kant and Montaigne, of Titus Oates and Tiberius Gracchus.’ 

Robert Conquest, (1969) Black Papers in Education I. Quoted in Ballard, M. (ed) New movements in the study and teaching of history: 3.

‘All children must  understand such key concepts as empire, monarch, crown, church, nobility, peasantry…  Public education systems contribute to a willingness of persons to define themselves as citizens, to make personal sacrifices for the community and to accept legitimate decisions of public officials.’

John Patten, (1994) Television broadcast, BBC1, 12 May.

‘The motive (for school history) is very largely moral, because it is a matter of introducing them to their responsibilities. If the soldiers and sailors who followed Marlborough and Wellington, Drake and Nelson, had defended the independence of this country form foreign danger, they in turn might be called on to do likewise.’ If the yeomen who supported Pym and Hampden had won parliamentary liberties, they might be called upon to defend and also exercise these liberties.’

Ministry of Education (1952) Teaching History: pamphlet no. 23, HMSO, London.

‘In days gone by there was a saying that certain events and historical facts were matters "which every English schoolboy knows". Today, sadly, it seems that most of that knowledge is a blank page to very many schoolboys and schoolgirls alike.Today I announce a plan to revitalise history's place in our schools. The distinguished historian and biographer Andrew Roberts has agreed to chair a panel of academics who will draw up a simple but clear list of the key facts, personalities and dates which every child should be taught.

Tim Collins (as Shadow Secretary of State for Education) (2005) Address to National Catholic Heads Conference, 27 January. Online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/jan/27/schools.uk3, last accessed 21 August 2008.

’The difficult thing about history is that, except for Harold Stassen, everybody who knows anything about it first hand is dead. This means that our only source of historical information is historians, who are useless because they keep changing everything around.’

Barry, D. (ed) (1988) Dave Barry’s Greatest hits, New York, Crown: 177.

‘From its (history’s) study, the mature reader may gain a wider intellectual outlook and a saner judgement, but for children it is pre-eminently an instrument of moral training’.

Board of Education Handbook for history teachers (1927).

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