Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Does the past have a future?

While taking a break from exam study yesterday I read a thought-provoking article by historian Simon Schama in which he outlined his vision for history in British schools. Insightful and inspiring, it reminded me why I started studying history in the first place (and how neglected this blog has been during exams).

Schama argues that sanitised, spoon-fed history curriculums patronise kids and underestimate an enthusiasm for complex stories proven by the popularity of books such as Harry Potter, The Dark Materials Trilogy, Twilight and Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we should ask if they stay in the best-sellers lists despite hefty word counts and challenging themes - or because of them. The truth is certainly stranger than fiction. Is it time we started telling history differently?

In a Facebook culture firmly focused on the next 'status update', Scharma suggests that ‘unless (children) can be won to history, their imagination will be held hostage in the cage of eternal Now’. I would argue that the dangers of being seduced by the ‘eternal Now ’are in no way limited to children. The 24hr news cycle has come to offer us a relentless drumbeat of action and reaction. With our minds set in the present, the perhaps future may soon become obsolete.

In his article, Scharma listed six key events from British history that he believes every child should learn, along with the reasons why. It made me wonder - how do you even begin to list the most important events in a community’s history? Do you select those events that had greatest impact at the time; or ones that have become more important in retrospect? Is it more important to know the about events that have made us who we are; or to select those that may help us become who we should be?

While we may never reach consensus on a single list of events that have defined us; perhaps we can all agree that to claim our future, we must first reclaim our past.

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