Authors defend guide for citizens

28th July 2006 at 01:00
The authors of the new citizenship guide, which historian David Starkey says fills him with horror, say he has has missed the educational point of the book.

Dr Starkey, the media-friendly historian, attacked the new guide in this week's Sunday Telegraph. He said that "Inside Britain: a guide to the UK constitution" was "full of howling errors" and described it as "muddled, dreary and written by people who are alien to any notion of proper historical development".

But Tony Thorpe, the former teacher who co-wrote the book, believes Dr Starkey has misunderstood the guide's purpose.

"I was disappointed," he said. "It is noticeable that his comments focus on a very small section of the guide. He probably hadn't read the whole book.

"We all have agendas which permeate what we write and say. Dr Starkey lays great store by the need for young people to understand factors that shaped the constitution. We would argue that there is a need for students to have the measure of what the constitution is."

Dr Starkey attacks the book's failure to address in detail the Civil War or the enfranchisement of women. In response, Mr Thorpe points to references to King Charles I and a small panel on the right to vote.

He said: "There are whole sets of information, traditions, patterns out there that people don't understand. Our guide is introducing these new areas. If you get drawn into a discussion about what the constitution says, then the educational element is lost."

The book, published today, has been produced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs at a cost of pound;400,000. It attempts to introduce various elements of British life, such as freedom of speech, immigration, Parliament and the legal system. The authors will also produce accompanying teachers' resources.

Mr Thorpe said: "This kind of book engages students. They pick up on something of interest and begin questioning and forming opinions."

But Dr Starkey maintains that the book is inappropriate for the classroom, adding that every page of his copy has been read.

He said: "It is incoherent and dull. Those are serious criticisms of anything intended as a teaching tool, and unforgivable sins on the part of a teacher. There's nothing here that would grab attention.

"It is utterly passive. There's no sense of citizenship or democracy. I just think this is a really bad textbook."

But Tony Breslin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation, defended the guide. He said: "The constitution is a complex and challenging concept to write about. Of course, interpretations differ across historians, constitutional lawyers and political experts."

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